College acceptances reach record low

Increased applicants, test-optional policies impact admissions

Caroline Ohlandt and Maya Scahill

Test-optional policies and increased numbers of college applicants have caused this year’s college admissions cycle to be especially difficult for students applying to colleges, College Counselor Annie Lesch said.

A major factor contributing to this change is an increase in the number of schools that students are applying to since Covid-19 has prevented travel and limited college tours throughout the past two years, Lesch said.

“Because a lot of colleges were closed [last year] and travel restrictions [were in place], students couldn’t see campuses in-person [and] had no way to narrow down their schools,” Lesch said. “Our recommendation [is to apply to] around six schools, [but the] Common Application will allow [students] to apply to 20 schools, and there were some students who [used] all those [application] spots.”

More applicants have caused most colleges, even larger state schools, to become increasingly selective in recent years, Lesch explained.

“There’s less predictability [in admissions], especially [at] many [of] the bigger state schools,” Lesch said. “This year we saw state schools becoming much more highly selective. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign saw [applications] increase [by] 33 percent, so their programs were more competitive.”

Many students, such as senior Minjae Lee, were shocked by how selective colleges have become this year.

“I thought I’d get [accepted] into my early decision school], but I got deferred from there which was surprising,” Lee said. “I think even from the beginning [of this school] year, this admissions cycle was tougher than [past years]. I got rejected from [many colleges] and waitlisted from a few [schools] as well.”

Another component that plays into the admissions process is how some colleges no longer require students to submit their ACT or SAT test scores, Guidance Counselor Anthony Griffin said.

“The schools have a [bigger] pool [of students] to choose from now,” Griffin said. “[Test-optional policies] make [colleges] more competitive because now they’re not looking at those test scores. That forces students to perform [well] in their classes and extracurricular activities.”

Test-optional policies have encouraged more students with lower test scores to apply to selective colleges, resulting in more applications, Michelle McAnaney, president of college counseling company The College Spy, said.

“Students who normally would self-select out of the admissions pool would look at the average SAT score [of a college] and not apply [in past years], [but] those kids are applying [now],” McAnaney said.

Brandon Tuck, Director of Admissions for Cal Poly Pomona, explained that he believes the elimination of test scores contributed to the institution’s 21 percent increase in applications this year.

“The elimination of the SAT means that more students [applying] feel like they have a chance of being admitted,” Tuck said.

However, test-optional policies have also increased stress for students who are uncertain about whether or not they should submit their test scores, Griffin said.

“[Test-optional policies] are a double-edged sword,” Griffin said. “Students who don’t do well on [standardized] tests [typically perform better] in the classroom. But for those students who [are] the opposite, [test-optional policies] might be a challenge [when applying for colleges].”

In addition to anxiety causing an increase in the number of schools students apply to, applications have also gone up, Lesch said. Additionally, last year’s increase in students applying for more colleges caused campus housing problems as many campuses were not able to house all their new students, she said. This has caused colleges to accept less students this year because of last year’s over-enrollment, she explained.

While Covid-19 has affected the college admissions process immensely, decreasing Covid-19 cases and improving housing issues on campuses should lead to easier college admissions cycles in the future, Lesch said.

“Because colleges are back [with in-person] tours, students should get on campuses and [see] whether they want to apply,” Lesch said. “I don’t think this [trend] is here to stay.”