#College Essays and Applications

This is our first (of what we intend to be annual) State of Admissions – an email that recaps our observations and analyses of college admissions trends and data from this past year.

Please do not hesitate to call 267-888-6489 or email if you have questions about this State of Admissions.

‘The Most Competitive Admissions Cycle Ever’

If you have read any articles on admissions statistics this month, you have probably read some variation on that sentence many times over. And it’s true – college admissions are getting tougher and tougher every year.

And this is not just happening at the Ivies like Penn or Cornell – or even other top tier universities like Duke or Northwestern. It’s happening at the large public universities (California has released, and schools like Michigan and Penn State should be releasing their numbers in the near future), popular city schools (see USC and BU and NYU and Tulane), and the small colleges (see Tufts and Bowdoin and Pomona).

While rising numbers in applications from accomplished and deserving students are the main driving force in this trend, there is another reason for concern and worry…

The Ever Increasing Use of “Deferrals” and “Waitlists”

It takes only anecdotal evidence to recognize that universities are using the dreaded and agonizing “Waitlist” decision more than ever. A student accepted to Penn, but waitlisted at Tulane? How does that make sense!

The reason is simple: college admissions are, more than ever, trying to manipulate their “yield” to look as competitive as possible.

The race to boast the lowest percent of accepted students is nothing new. (See this parody article from 2016.) But if you look just below the Ivy League institutions and their equally ranked counterparts, colleges are clamoring to appear more selective (and in turn prestigious) than ever before.

There is not much statistical evidence yet available from the Class of 2022. Cornell (nearly 1,000 more students waitlisted for the Class of 2022 compared to the Class of 2017) was a very rare instance of a school reporting their waitlist statistics this early – and 1,000 more waitlisted students in just five years time is staggering.

Then check out a school like Michigan: not only has the percent of students waitlisted increased, but so has the percent of students accepted from the waitlist – to a staggering degree. This underscores the escalating manipulation of yield numbers.

From our perspective at Ivy Experience, while we and our colleagues have seen a growing trend of “deferrals” for early decision/action applicants in recent years (so that universities can see what they are getting from the regular decision applicants before taking up too many spots in the class), the increase in “waitlists” this year was also disproportional. We will be eager to see official statistics at some point when they are released.

The moral of the story: do not take any acceptance for granted. Demonstrate interest and display enthusiasm even for targets and safeties. Convincing those colleges that you want them could be crucial to you having them as an option from your “accepted” list in the spring of senior year.

The Importance of your Resume

When parents of 9th and 10th graders call us and ask what they can be doing to jumpstart their students’ college prep, there are really two main answers: keep your grades as high as possible to maximize GPA and academic rigor…and start building a purposeful and passionate resume.

Students will (rightfully) resent the idea that all their free time should be dedicated to “building a resume.” So we would suggest that your families reframe how students commit themselves outside of school.

Stress the mantra Better Person, Better Applicant. What does this mean? Simply put, the students who follow and embrace their intellectual and personal passions – who show initiative, demonstrate leadership, and engage in their activities in enriching ways – are also the students whose resumes jump out the most to college admissions officers.

So ask your student: What are your intellectual drives? What do you love to do? And if they say that they want to start a rock band in the garage…that is not a bad idea! They are starting a band (initiative and leadership), displaying musical talent (creativity), hopefully playing charity gigs around town (community service), or maybe getting paid gigs and teaching music lessons to neighborhood kids (employment) – and if they create a website or audio/video tracks that go viral, that is certainly a bonus.

And use your summers wisely. Be creative. Find jobs, internships, and research positions that align with students’ intellectual interests. Considering that the most popular supplemental essay question on college applications is ‘Why have you selected your intended major?’, students will have plenty to write about if they have already engaged in their intellectual curiosities.

Or for that matter, service.  But choose service that stands out – start something on your own, pursue service that relates to your passions or academic interests. By engaging in meaningful service, rather than just signing up for random volunteering, students will be happier, better people…and applicants!

A Note about the SAT and ACT…

As you all know, in March 2016 the SAT released its newly redesigned test, fundamentally changing how students should approach the test – as well as how it is scored. While the major change was that the scoring scale went back to 1600 from 2400, the more subtle, albeit important, change was that students were no longer penalized a 1/4 of a point for an incorrect answer on the test. The SAT grading system changed to the one used by the ACT, in which the student’s score is solely based on how many questions they get correct.What impact did this have on scores? Scores across the board went up. A 600 on the old SAT is not the same as a 600 on the new SAT. The lack of a penalty for incorrect answers means it is much more difficult for students to get a really low score on the test. (Purely guessing on every question will get you a score in the high 200s or low 300s on each section.)

This increase in scores had an interesting affect on admissions offices, as they were not completely sure how to evaluate the scores.

While most would assume that the average SAT scores for admitted students would go up at most colleges, that was not the case.

Colleges were split about 50/50 on how the their ranges shifted: some went up while some went down.

But why? In the short, the answer is that colleges are still unsure how to evaluate the new SAT. Many colleges cast a wider net, considering applicants with a wider range of SAT scores than before. This in turn led to more students with lower scores being accepted, and also more students with higher scores being rejected, as compared with students with equivalent scores on the old SAT. This is trend that will likely self-correct in the future as colleges have more data on this test.

In other news that affects students taking the ACT and the SAT, both tests may be moving to online versions in the near future. In fact, online-only tests are already being tested out in parts of the country, and ACT plans to administer their international tests via computer starting this fall. This is an evolving story, and we will continue to keep you updated as more areas of the country shift away from pencil and paper.

The Importance of Essays and Demonstrated Interest

For years, admissions officers at the top and most competitive universities across the country have said that if, hypothetically, they rejected the previous year’s class of incoming freshmen, and instead took the next “x” number of applicants (the ones who in reality were rejected), the university’s average GPA, SAT, and ACT scores would not go down. In other words, there must be something else beyond ‘the numbers’ that separates those students who are accepted with those who are rejected.

A lot of those factors remain out of your control. But in your control are your resume, your application essays, and your demonstrated interest. Essays and demonstrated interest can oftentimes be the tiebreakers in which students are admitted, waitlisted, and rejected.

Application essays need to be compelling, personal, and specific – especially if a college asks, “Why do you want to go to our school?” Demonstrated interest means visiting campus, attending local information sessions or admission rep visits to your high school, and following up with your regional admissions by email or letter when appropriate.

Students too often procrastinate or overlook these factors that are so crucial to an application’s success. Make sure you do not make that mistake!