The Ivy Coach Daily

November 30, 2020

Many Unqualified Students Applied to Elite Universities This Fall

In spite of articles that detail how applications to American universities are down this fall, loyal readers of our college admissions blog are bracing to learn to what extent applications are up at many of our nation’s most selective universities. After all, there are over 900 universities in America. But most of these schools aren’t particularly selective. There are only about 25 highly selective universities in America, and those schools are the focus of our reporting.

Among these institutions, the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, two of our nation’s finest public universities, have already reported skyrocketing applications. So why would applications be up at our nation’s highly selective universities in spite of the fact that they are down at the vast majority of America’s universities? That’s an easy one.

When Elite Universities Went Test-Optional, Many Students Gained Chutzpah

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, when the vast majority of our nation’s highly selective universities chose to go “test-optional” — and we do put that term in quotations since we believe “test-optional” policies aren’t worth the paper they’re written on since an applicant with a great SAT/ACT score will always have an advantage over a student with no score — many high school seniors grew confidence. Maybe they thought that if Yale isn’t requiring SAT or ACT scores, they just might be able to get into the elite university. They knew they didn’t have a chance with their superscored 1340 SAT score but if Yale wasn’t requiring test scores, well, why not give it the old college try? Or maybe a student couldn’t score higher than 650 on any single SAT Subject Test, but once those were no longer required at Georgetown University, they figured why not give it a roll?

Test-Optional Policies Mean Diddly-Squat

But as we have long suggested on the pages of this blog, “test-optional” policies are not to be believed. All else being equal, a student who reports a 1580 SAT score is always going to win in admissions over a student who doesn’t submit an SAT score because, well, she wasn’t required to do so. Unless a school forbids the submission of certain test scores — like Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with SAT Subject Tests and the California Institute of Technology with the SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Tests — we urge our readers not to believe such policies. But Ivy Coach, are you suggesting that these admissions officers aren’t being truthful? Of course we are! It’s these same admissions officers who have long claimed their institutions are “need-blind.” It’s these same admissions officers who have long claimed not to discriminate against Asian American applicants. It’s these same admissions officers who once claimed not to use Jewish quotas in admissions. Please. They’re human beings. They don’t always tell the truth.

This Will Be the Most Competitive Year in Admissions, But Not Because of Rising Application Figures

But, alas, as parents and applicants to the Class of 2025 in the days to come read reports that applications are up — rather significantly — at many highly selective universities, do not fear. We have long expressed on the pages of this blog that more applications does not in itself mean that a cycle will be more competitive. For many years, colleges would love to say, “It’s the most competitive class ever.” But, again, they weren’t always telling it like it is. The truth is that elite universities have just gotten better and better at getting students to apply. Yet, as an extreme example, more C students applying to Harvard University doesn’t make the Harvard applicant pool more competitive. It merely boosts the application figure and invariably lowers the admit rate — making it seem ever more competitive. So because so many students without test scores gave it the old college try this year by applying to schools they wouldn’t have applied to with test scores in hand, don’t worry so much about rising application figures. No, worry instead that up to a fifth of seats have already been filled with students admitted to the Class of 2024 who opted to take gap years and will thus be members of the Class of 2025. Or, rather, don’t worry about that either…because there’s nothing you can do about it. Breathe in. Breathe out. Namaste.

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