Cornell Admissions Leader Acknowledges Squeakers

The leader of Cornell’s admissions office offered an interesting quote to “The New York Times” (photo credit: Justin Ennis).

Back in December, when folks asked us why our nation’s elite universities received so many more applications this past Early cycle than in years past, we attributed the spike to a few key factors. Such factors included: (1) students had no excuse to procrastinate this year by foregoing applying Early since they were stuck at home with their families due to the pandemic, (2) Princeton’s suspension of its Early program led to a diaspora of their applicants to other elite universities, and (3) the squeakers. Squeakers, as defined by Ivy Coach, are students without test scores who presumed that they could earn a slot at one of our nation’s elite universities this year since the submission of test scores were optional due to the pandemic. Essentially, they thought, “Why not give it a shot?”

We Argued Admissions Officers Weren’t Being Truthful About Test-Optional Policies

And we understand why these applicants thought they had a genuine shot of admission to these universities. After all, admissions officers so vociferously argued that they really were test-optional, that students need not submit SAT or ACT scores to earn admission. We, of course, were equally as vocal in letting it be known these admissions officers were not telling it like it was. We argued that, all else being equal, a student with great test scores would always have an advantage over a student with no scores. We also argued that elite universities would of course have to admit some applicants without test scores but the vast majority of these applicants would be low-income, underrepresented young people whose families were disproportionately impacted by Covid-19. And we took heat for our assertion that these admissions officers weren’t telling it like it was. But, as it turns out, we were right.

The Data — and the Absence of Data — Suggests Admissions Officers Weren’t Being Truthful

You see, most highly selective universities haven’t released the percentage of students who did and did not submit test scores in the Early round much less the percentage of students admitted in the Early round who did and did not submit scores. If admissions officers at these elite universities were telling the truth, they wouldn’t conceal these figures from the public. They’d have nothing to hide. And at the select few highly selective universities that did release figures, the numbers told the story. At Georgetown University, 7.34% of applicants who did not submit standardized test scores were admitted. This means that 92.66% of applicants who did not submit test scores didn’t get in. At the University of Pennsylvania, 76% of Early Decision applicants submitted test scores, suggesting they didn’t exactly take admissions officers at their word. They didn’t drink the Kool-Aid.

Cornell’s Admissions Czar Makes Our Point

But don’t just take our word for it. Take the word of Cornell University’s Vice Provost for Enrollment Jonathan Burdick. As he states in a piece in today’s New York Times entitled “Interest Surges in Top Colleges, While Struggling Ones Scrape for Applicants,” “Prestigious universities like Cornell never have a hard time attracting students. But this year, the admissions office in Ithaca, N.Y., is swimming in 17,000 more applications than it has ever received before, driven mostly by the school’s decision not to require standardized test scores during the coronavirus pandemic. ‘We saw people that thought ‘I would never get into Cornell’ thinking, ‘Oh, if they’re not looking at a test score, maybe I’ve actually got a chance,'” said Jonathan Burdick, Cornell’s vice provost for enrollment.”

Shall we repeat the words of Cornell’s admissions czar? Shall we highlight them? Shall we place them in bold and underline? He literally stated to The Paper of Record that all these students applied without test scores thinking they had a chance. Who ever would have given them that outrageous idea?


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  • Jim Barnes-Day says:

    Well, Burdick’s comments are perplexing. He has all but yelled from hilltops he wants to eliminate standardized tests since he got there a little over a year ago, but now he won’t admit those without them? What is up with this guy?

    • dbs says:

      Not perplexing. He is saying that a bunch of additional students that never had a chance of getting into Cornell applied because they figured without test scores maybe they’d slip by. Example, a 3.5 GPA and 1200 SAT student isn’t going to get in, but that same student thinks they might have a small shot if the college is blind to the 1200 SAT.
      Burdick wants to eliminate standardized tests, but you still need in the ballpark of an unweighted 3.9 GPA, lots of AP/IB, top-notch recommendations, maybe some high-level awards, meaningful essays, etc. Basically, the same kid who is going to do well on the SAT anyway, and a few high-achieving but underprivileged students that happen to struggle with standardized tests (which is what Burdick is trying to capture).

  • Anonymous says:

    “Tufts is SAT/ACT test-optional this year as part of a three-year pilot program. 55% of Early Decision applicants did not submit an SAT or ACT score. 52% of admitted ED students did not submit an SAT or ACT score,” Duck said. “We worked carefully to adjust our review process so as to not advantage students who did submit scores, and not disadvantage those who did not.”

    According to Duck, the pilot program has proven successful so far in this effort.

    “The harmony between the percentage of applicants without scores and the percentage of admitted students without scores is one indication that we were able to strike an appropriate balance,” Duck said.

    • Ivy Coach says:

      Yes, indeed! We previously saluted Tufts’ Duck for his candor about their test-optional admissions policy on the pages of this blog. As we previously mentioned, we believe there were a couple of schools — and only a couple — that were telling the truth this year about their test-optional policies: Tufts and Dartmouth.

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