Big Changes Are Happening In College Admissions
I will be updating this post periodically as many universities are making midstream changes to their application process even as application materials for the Covid year are starting to appear–like the Cornell application essays, which are up now and ready to write for this fall’s applications. Big changes have already occurred in Ivy League admissions, and more seem to be on the way.
How to Think About Optional SAT/ACT Tests
At this point, the ACT/SAT tests are optional for fall 2020 applicants to Ivy League universities. However, if you have good scores you should absolutely send them, because the bottom line is that a good number will help you get admitted. And while the language used by the schools shows that they will be looking more intensely at other parts of your record and essays to determine your academic merit, that means they have to come up with a qualitative way to match a non-test applicant against an applicant with a quantitative test score.
By default, I still have to say that gives an initial advantage to a person with a great SAT score, going head to head with a person who does not have a great SAT score. But if you have a good set of classes on your transcript and good extracurriculars, you can still compete without that test number–but it means that you need to create a winning picture on the written side of your application, in your activities descriptions and in your essays. Think great essays rather than simply good essays.
Here’s the latest update on changes in Ivy League application requirements for 2020-2021
Princeton Admissions Changes for 2020-2021
Princeton has made the biggest move in admissions among Ivy League schools as of the third week of June.
Among their changes are the expected–Princeton has announced that SAT/ACT tests are optional, which was not a big surprise–and the unexpected: Old Nassau is also dropping its early admissions option. Why?
The answer is pretty simple–it takes pressure off of both sides of the application process: high school seniors trying to juggle hybrid/online school with college admissions now have more time to deal with their application, and Princeton’s admissions people have time to organize how they will process applications while keeping their admissions people safe during the Covid pandemic.
That, and the Ivy League schools are in a slow dance, adjusting their application policies to each other–look directly below to see how universities that currently offer an early application option are beginning to hedge.
So as with the dropping of the SAT test requirement, expect more Ivies to follow Princeton’s lead by moving to a single, regular application date. This is not just herd behavior–it’s about impacts to applications: if only one school ends up keeping a particular kind of admissions policy, e.g. early action admissions, well . . . let’s just say that school will have many early admissions applications to deal with. Princeton was slow to suspend the tests for this year’s application, but now they’ve upped the ante by dropping early applications entirely for this year. That’s why I expect some of those who currently confirm at least EA apps to drop the early application in the coming weeks. I will update this post when they do.
Here is the language from Princeton:
The University will move to one application deadline of Jan. 1, 2021 for this first-year admission cycle. All applicants will apply using either the Coalition Application or Common Application through the Regular Decision process and will receive decisions on their applications by April 1, 2021. Princeton will continue to partner with QuestBridge and participate in the National College Match in December.
Harvard Admissions Changes
Speaking of schools hedging their early application language: Harvard has dropped the test requirement, and they continue to offer Early Action, but I believe they are moving toward dropping it, so be prepared. Here’s the language:
Our early action deadline remains November 1 for now. If students wish to submit standardized tests, the November tests will arrive in time for early action consideration. Because of COVID-19, we expect that fewer students will apply early this year and students should not rush to apply early if they feel they are not ready. As always, there is no advantage to applying early versus regular. (note that the bold font was added by me, for emphasis).
My main comment on that last bit, about no advantage for early application: Hahaha.
On average, the admit data shows that an early application at least doubles the rate of admissions over a regular application. Some of this has to do with the larger pool in regular admissions, but the evidence still favors early applications. Among other things, you really show that demonstrated interest by using up your early app opportunity on a school–that confirms a higher level of commitment. To see what I mean about the data, have a look at my comparison of early vs. regular admissions for last year’s application cycle: Ivy League Application Data
Yale Admissions Changes
Yale, too has dropped its SAT/ACT requirement, and has similar language to the others about not advantaging students who can supply scores. As with the other schools, I am sure they will try to read your information to accomodate the lack of test data, but I add this consideration in my comments on Yale–and this applies to all of the other Ivy League universities: when you have tens of thousands of applicants, and out of that, let’s say ten thousand of them have close to perfect GPA and great transcripts, how do you decide whom to admit? Clearly, test scores are an advantage, just because they are easy to compare.
However, do not despair; creating an exceptionally strong written side of your application will help.
Speaking of which: Yale’s application essay and supplemental writing for this year are up; I will write a post on their supplemental writing pretty soon, but in the meantime, here is the link to the prompts for 2020-2021: Yale Application Essays and Supplemental Writing.
Brown University Admissions Changes
So far Brown is keeping their early admissions, but they, too, are test-optional. Here is a key quote that adds something to consider for all of the Ivy League applications you might do:
We want to see what you have accomplished with the resources and opportunities available to you in high school, as well as evaluate your potential to thrive within the unique offerings of Brown University.
I would advise that this look at what you did with the resources and opportunitiies available to you in high school is key to all Ivy League applications this year, as they are all adjusting to the new environment, but I would add that a close reader sees that phrase “evaluate your potential to thrive . . . at Brown. They can look at how well you”thrived” in the last semester of your junior year, and over this summer, to see whether you took the initiative to get some activities going on your own, or by organizing with others, particularly in an ad hoc fashion. I mean, did you stay home and applaud protesters for peace and justice, or did you show to march or to supply water bottles or get involved in some other way? ‘Nuff said.
Cornell University Application Changes
Same story–no test requirement for 2020-2021. They are keeping their Early Decision in place, and of the Ivies, they will be among the last to drop that–if they do. They admit a large percentage under E.D. and it’s a big part of their admissions philosophy, as they seek the truly committed.
As noted in my intro to this post, they also have their supplement up and ready to go. If you did not check my analysis on that, see it here: Cornell Supplement Class of 2025.
Columbia Application Changes for 2020-2021
Columbia has also adopted a test-optional policy for this year only.
No new language has been adopted for their Early Decision applications, with the November 1 E.D. deadline still in place.
University of Pennsylvania Application Changes for 2020-2021
Same-same: SAT/ACT are optional for UPenn this year. Early Decision is still in place, and I would expect Penn to resist dropping it. E.D. is a different animal than E.A. in a number of ways. For E.D. schools, early applications play a more important, and fixed, part of the application process.
Dartmouth Application Changes for 2020-2021
And of course, Dartmouth is also test-optional in 2020-2021. Have a look at Dean Coffin’s blog–scroll down from the header photo and bio of the Dean to see his explanation and his view of the tests and the application evaluation process: Dean Coffin’s blog.
(No doubt the Dean’s surname name will inspire jokes about Dartmouth being the place that applications go to die, but of course that is actually Stanford (sub-5% admit rate, folks). The Dean seems like a pretty great guy, actually).