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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.
But while selective universities like Cornell and its fellow Ivy League schools have seen unprecedented interest after waiving test scores, smaller and less recognizable schools are dealing with the opposite issue: empty mailboxes.
In early December, applications to Cal Poly Pomona, east of Los Angeles and part of the California State University system, were down 40 percent over the previous year from would-be freshmen, and 52 percent from transfer students, most of whom started their higher education at community colleges.
A drop in applications does not always translate into lower enrollment. But at a time when many colleges and universities are being squeezed financially by the pandemic and a loss of public funding, the prospect of landing fewer students — and losing critical tuition dollars — is a dire one at schools that have already slashed programs and laid off staff.
To avoid that, the faculty and administrators at Cal Poly Pomona, which lost $20 million in state funding this fiscal year, spent December calling students who had started their applications but not submitted them, or who had applied in the past and were not accepted.
“It’s like Amazon,” said Luoluo Hong, who oversees admissions at the Cal States, a network of largely commuter schools. “‘There’s a purchase in your cart!’ And then we’re trying to follow through and close the deal.”
The California State system extended the application deadline for all its schools by two weeks, and Cal Poly Pomona managed to close the gap. But its herculean effort, at a time when Ivy League schools had to add an extra week just to consider their influx of applicants, further underscored inequities in higher education that have been widened by the pandemic.
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“It’s impacting both students from an equity perspective,” said Jenny Rickard, the chief executive of the Common Application, which is used by colleges across the country, “and then it’s also showing which colleges and universities are more privileged.”
The nation’s most-selective four-year institutions, both public and private, saw a record-breaking 17 percent increase in applications this year, according to the Common App. Small liberal arts schools felt a boon, with applications to Haverford and Swarthmore increasing by 16 percent and 12 percent, respectively. So did large state schools like the University of California, Los Angeles, where freshman applications increased 28 percent.
Applications to the primary campus at Penn State, a Big Ten School, increased by 11 percent. Harvard saw a whopping 42 percent spike, while Colgate University in upstate New York received 103 percent more applications.
But smaller or less recognizable institutions, both public and private, saw precipitous declines.
Applications fell by 14 percent at the State University of New York, the largest public college system in the country. At Portland State in Oregon, freshman applications were down 12 percent and transfers down 28 percent. Loyola University Maryland, a private liberal arts school in Baltimore, has seen a 12 percent drop in total applications, even after extending its deadline by two weeks.
The declines come at a time when colleges and universities have been battered financially by the coronavirus, with estimated losses of more than $120 billion from plunging enrollment and dried-up revenue streams like food services and athletic events.
Many institutions outside the top tier were struggling even before the pandemic, and a smaller freshman class could mean further distress, including more slashed programs and faculty layoffs — making them, in a vicious cycle, even less attractive to prospective students. A few colleges have even shut down permanently during the pandemic.
“Covid didn’t create this challenge, but it certainly exposes and exacerbates the risk that institutions face financially,” said Susan Campbell Baldridge, a former provost of Middlebury College and co-author of “The College Stress Test,” a book that examines the financial threats to some American colleges and universities.
Even before the pandemic, Dr. Baldridge said, “the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting more and more challenged, in terms of institutions.” The pattern of applications during the pandemic is just “further evidence” of a long-term trend, she said.
The Common App’s data does not include community colleges because they typically allow anyone to enroll. But those schools, which often provide low-income students a first step into higher education, also saw steep declines. In the fall of 2020, freshmen enrollment fell by more than 20 percent.
“We saw the largest declines by far among students from low-income high schools, high-minority high schools, urban high schools, who ordinarily would have gone to community colleges this fall, and who just vanished,” said Doug Shapiro, the vice president for research at the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which publishes educational reports.
Those students often have to work or lack online access, making it harder to apply, he said. “Those are students that are going to have the most difficulty getting back on track, even once the pandemic is over.”
About 3 percent fewer students who would be the first in their families to go to college submitted applications this year, according to Common App data, along with a 2 percent drop in students who qualified for waived admissions fees — a proxy for family income.
But although fewer people from those groups applied over all, some selective schools saw big increases from students who are typically underrepresented at elite institutions. The University of California, Berkeley, received 38 percent more applications from Black, Latino and Native American hopefuls than in 2019. New York University saw 22 percent more applications from both Black and Latino students.
There is little doubt what is driving those gains: making standardized test scores optional for applicants. About 1,700 schools did not require SAT or ACT scores this year.
“When students are trying to gauge their likelihood of getting admitted, they will often look to, well, ‘What are the test score averages?’ or ‘What’s the G.P.A. average?’” Ms. Rickard of the Common App said. Without a test score, she said, “maybe they aren’t sure exactly where to aim, or they think this is their opportunity to try to get into a more selective institution.”
Although most schools that waived standardized tests this year did so temporarily, a growing number are making it permanent because of concerns that the tests are inherently biased. The University of California system, which serves nearly 300,000 students and includes some of the nation’s most-desired schools, decided last year to suspend consideration of SAT and ACT scores. Applications across the system increased 16 percent this year, a record high.
“The elimination of that barrier really did drive application increases,” said Emily D. Engelschall, who oversees admissions at the University of California, Riverside.
The experiment with ignoring test scores could extend beyond the coronavirus crisis, some admissions officers said. The University of Chicago had already declared itself test optional in 2018. And several Ivy League schools, including Harvard, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania, have said they will not require test scores for next year’s applicants, most of whom are currently high school juniors.
Cornell had made a significant effort in recent years to expand the diversity of its applicant pool, but Mr. Burdick, who oversees admissions, said nothing had as big of an impact as waiving test scores. “We didn’t see an expansion of wealthy kids saying, ‘Well, I’ll apply to Cornell.’ That was already happening,” he said.
Mr. Burdick said his staff had developed a new way to review applications — a “universal transcript review” — focused on the rigor of the classes that applicants took in high school and how they performed in them.
“The essay, the résumé and the letters assume a smidgen more importance than they would have in a system in which the test score just sort of sat there like a big object on the review process,” Mr. Burdick said.
While Cornell and its peers enjoy their bounty, the state systems and less-selective private schools that educate the majority of U.S. college graduates are bracing for long-term distress if the drop in applications leads to depressed enrollment and lower tuition revenue.
Colleges usually admit students they think will attend. But this year, with increased competition for them, admitted students might start playing the field, or get stuck on wait-list limbo at more selective schools as a hectic year shuffles out.
“For us,” said Dr. Hong of Cal State, “what is ultimately going to matter is: You’re admitted to college. But do you go?”
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Interest Surges in Top Colleges, While Struggling Ones Scrape for Applicants. Waiving standardized test requirements during the pandemic brought more hopefuls to the Ivy League and large state schools, while less-selective colleges face an alarming drop.Why are colleges getting harder to get into? ›
Together, these factors–the increases in selectivity, the focus on rankings, the intensified stress on test scores, the lack of clarity around each school's enrollment priorities–has made the college admissions landscape feel treacherous, littered with obstacles to potentially thwart applicants' aspirations.Why are so many people getting rejected from college? ›
Failure to meet high GPA or test score standards. Insufficient academic rigor. Lack of demonstrated interest. Application essay errors.Has there been an increase in college applications? ›
Total applications (which counts the multiple applications made by most students) increased by 30%, from 5,434,484 in 2019-2020 to 7,057,980 in the current cycle. On average, this year's applicants also applied to more Common App member schools (5.7) than in 2019–20 (5.3), an 8% increase.Why are applications surging in Southern colleges? ›
(NewsNation) — As enrollment at higher education institutions continues to decline, the number of applications is surging at many colleges as prospective students cast a wider net and apply to more schools than years prior.Will it be harder or easier to get into college in 2023? ›
Admission rates for 2022-2023 have not been announced but are expected to remain just as low. Given this competitive environment, admission experts say students shouldn't assume they'll be a 'shoe-in' at any school.What's the hardest college to get into right now? ›
Niche, a ranking and review site, recently published its list of the “2023 Hardest Colleges to Get Into.” Using data from the U.S. Department of Education on various colleges' acceptance rates and SAT/ACT scores, they found, unsurprisingly, Harvard University to be the most difficult college to get into.Will colleges reject you for being too good? ›
While there is some anecdotal evidence that overqualified students get rejected, these students aren't usually turned down because of their better-than-average grades or test scores. Most likely, the overqualified student isn't the right fit for a school or they haven't shown enough interest to admission officers.What percent of people regret going to college? ›
Despite wide differences in levels of regret when it comes to majors, the vast majority of respondents were glad they went to school. Only 9% of those who attended a public institution wish they had not gone to college, the Federal Reserve survey found.What is the biggest factor on college application? ›
Courses and Grades
A student's grades in college-preparatory classes remain the most significant factor in college admission decisions. Highly selective colleges look for students who: Complete core academic requirements.
1. University of California, Los Angeles. In 2021, 107,356 students applied to UCLA and only 15,352 were admitted.Is college enrollment declining? ›
Nationwide, undergraduate college enrollment dropped 8% from 2019 to 2022, with declines even after returning to in-person classes, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse. The slide in the college-going rate since 2018 is the steepest on record, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.What are highly selective colleges looking for? ›
Many applicants to highly selective colleges have perfect GPAs, strong performance in AP and IB courses, sky-high SAT and ACT scores, amazing extracurricular and leadership resumes, enthusiastic letters of recommendation, and compelling personal statements.What is an example of a college application spike? ›
It just means that starting to reflect on the types of professions that appeal to you can help guide you. For example, a student interested in becoming a writer can develop a spike by writing and publishing short stories. Or, a future doctor may do health advocacy work with underserved populations.Why are colleges getting so competitive? ›
There are a number of reasons for the increased competitiveness in college admission. Although the number of high school graduates in each state has either plateaued or decreased in recent years, there are more applicants because a larger percentage of graduates apply to four-year colleges.What year is usually the hardest in college? ›
Although junior year often holds the most challenging classes, it is not always the most difficult. Students are able to take what they have learned from their previous two years of schooling to better prepare themselves for the more strenuous classes.What is the hardest year of college academically? ›
Everyone's college experience is different. Many people including myself have found the third year to be the most difficult. This is the year in which you will start to take classes that are specifically for your major. The classes for your major tend to be more challenging than core classes.What is the trend in college admissions in 2023? ›
Another 2023 college admissions trend is the continued importance of selecting colleges with early action and early decision options. Roughly 50% of applicants apply early, and colleges often fill a significant portion (50-60%) of their incoming class through early decision.What is the least accepting college? ›
Among the institutions with the lowest acceptance rate, colleges included, UCLA is the only public university with the lowest acceptance rate while the college with the lowest acceptance rate is Dartmouth College. The rest of the U.S. higher educational institutions with low acceptance rates are privately-owned.Which prestigious college is easiest to get into? ›
Cornell is considered the "easiest" Ivy League to get into because it has the highest Ivy League acceptance rate.
- University of Maine--Fort Kent.
- University of Maine--Presque Isle.
- University of Pikeville.
- The University of Texas at El Paso.
- Utah Valley University.
- Wayne State College.
- Weber State University.
- Western Nevada College.
The only time you can't reapply as a freshman applicant is if you try to apply again in the same admissions timeframe as your first application. (For example, if you were rejected Early Action/Early Decision, you can't reapply Regular Decision for that same admissions cycle.)Can a college reverse a rejection? ›
Some colleges offer the option of appealing a rejection, and while a reversal is rare, it could be worth pursuing. If your initial admissions circumstances have changed significantly, and you feel you have a strong case, there's a chance your appeal might prevail.Can colleges change their mind after rejecting you? ›
While it's extremely rare for a college to overturn its decision, you may recommend that rejected students write a letter of appeal explaining why they deserve to be reconsidered. This action will give students the peace of mind of knowing that they have done everything possible to make a strong case.Is being waitlisted better than rejected? ›
Getting on a waitlist is not a rejection — waitlisted students still have a shot at earning admission to the school. College waitlist statistics from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) show that 43% of postsecondary institutions used a waitlist during the 2018-19 school year.Do colleges tell you why they rejected you? ›
While colleges are not likely to share their specific reasons for rejecting an application, colleges do tell you if they rejected you. For students wondering what to do if you get rejected from all colleges, you may want to consider taking a gap year and reapplying next year.Do colleges waitlist overqualified applicants? ›
Many colleges, in particular those that are considered safety schools, waitlist overqualified students. Admissions officers usually refuse to take them off the waitlist until those students provide them with sufficient proof that they really want to attend, often by means of demonstrated interest.What is the most regretted college major? ›
The most-regretted college major is journalism, according to the study. Eighty-seven percent of those graduates sampled said they would choose a different major if they could. Below is the list of the top 10 most-regretted majors based on the 1,500 job seekers ZipRecruiter surveyed.What are the most regretted college degrees? ›
Regret is heavily influenced by salary.
The top three regretted majors, according to ZipRecruiter, are journalism (87%), sociology (72%), and liberal arts and general studies (72%). The top three regret-free majors, all above 70%, are computer and information sciences, criminology, and engineering.
- Skipping the reading. ...
- Taking on way too much. ...
- Sticking to what you know. ...
- Trying to work in a distracting environment. ...
- Memorizing without understanding. ...
- Procrastinating until crunch time. ...
- Skipping sleep. ...
- Ignoring expenses.
Good grades, a challenging high school curriculum, standardized test scores, extracurriculars, and a strong essay are a few key factors admissions officers assess.What are the 3 big factors that will get a college to really look at you during the application process? ›
A high GPA (relative to what admitted students have) and a rigorous curriculum. Strong test scores (relative to what admitted students have) A specific, honest, and well-written personal statement and/or essays.What is the top 10% rule when applying for college? ›
The “Top 10 Percent Law” is the common name for Texas House Bill 588, the state law passed in 1997 that guarantees Texas students who graduated in the top ten percent of their high school class automatic admission to all state-funded universities.What is the most desirable college? ›
- Princeton University.
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- Harvard University.
- Stanford University.
- Yale University.
- University of Chicago.
- Johns Hopkins University.
- University of Pennsylvania.
- 1) Harvard University.
- 2) Columbia University.
- 3) Caltech.
- 4) Stanford University.
- 5) MIT.
- 6) Princeton University.
- 7) Yale University.
- 8) Brown University.
- Social Sciences and History. ...
- Engineering. ...
- Biological and Biomedical Sciences. ...
- Psychology. ...
- Communication and Journalism. ...
- Visual and Performing Arts. ...
- Computer and Information Sciences. ...
The first thing to acknowledge is that the hype and anxiety are not unfounded: it is, in fact, much more difficult to get into college than it was a generation ago. The number of college applicants has risen sharply, especially over the past ten years, and this trend does not appear to be letting up any time soon.Why do colleges decline people? ›
Failure to meet high GPA or test score standards. Insufficient academic rigor. Lack of demonstrated interest. Application essay errors.Are college dropouts increasing? ›
While high school dropout rates are decreasing, the United States experiences a daunting 40% college dropout rate every year. With only 41% of students graduating after four years without delay, American universities tend to pale at the scale of this recurring issue (ThinkImpact, 2021).What do elite colleges look for in applicants? ›
High School GPA and Class Rank
Colleges look not only at your overall GPA but also at how well you did in individual classes. If your school has a class rank, that shows how much competition you faced with grades and performance to reach a particular level.
The Elite Schools
These colleges generally accept fewer than 30 percent of all applicants and have a highly selective reputation to match. If you have an exemplary record, you may be just the right student for one of these elite schools. The most important question, however, is if an elite college is right for you.
If you have your hopes set on attending a highly selective four-year university, you'll want to stand out from other applicants. A good way to achieve this is to have a GPA of around 3.8 or higher. To earn a GPA that high, you'll need to get mostly A's in your classes in high school.What is considered a spike in college admissions? ›
A Clear Spike or Passion
The spike is the one thing that makes an applicant truly exceptional, such as a passion or extracurricular that focuses your biggest talents into a tangible project or goal.
- Understand why the college wants you to write an essay. ...
- Pick the right essay prompt and stick to it. ...
- Pick the right essay format to use. ...
- Show your essay to a few people before you submit it. ...
- Improve your essay writing with StraighterLine.
The "hooks" that are fairly well known are categories like a legacy student, a student-athlete, an underrepresented minority student, a student with a connection to a current or potential university donor, or a very talented student in a specific area (such as superb clarinet player or a chess champion, for example).How do you stand out for competitive colleges? ›
- Choose Your High School Classes With Intention. ...
- Strive for Good Grades. ...
- Tell the Story of Who You Are. ...
- Participate in Extracurricular Activities. ...
- Volunteer. ...
- Keep Accurate Records. ...
- Manage Your Social Media Presence.
USC accepted 7,558 students and enrolled about 42% of those students in Fall 2019, marking the highest yield rate in University history. Over 66,000 students applied, ranking USC among the most applied to private colleges.Why are college acceptance rates decreasing? ›
What is the Reason for the Decline? The primary reason for the decline in acceptance rates is because there has been a large increase in the number of applicants. The acceptance rate of a school is calculated by dividing the number of admitted students by the total number of applicants.Why is college so competitive now? ›
There are a number of reasons for the increased competitiveness in college admission. Although the number of high school graduates in each state has either plateaued or decreased in recent years, there are more applicants because a larger percentage of graduates apply to four-year colleges.Why are college acceptance rates so low 2023? ›
Increased Applications Drive Up Competition
Despite having lots of applications, the number of applicants that can be admitted pretty much stays the same. And this means smaller acceptance rates, which, needless to say, is something that can make getting admitted even more difficult.
In many ways, the new SAT is much easier than the older version. However, this doesn't mean you shouldn't study and be prepared! While the format may be better for some students, the questions are still designed to test your ability and skills in each particular subject.Is college losing popularity? ›
Nationwide, undergraduate college enrollment dropped 8 percent from 2019 to 2022, with declines even after returning to in-person classes, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse.What is the lowest accepting colleges? ›
Among the institutions with the lowest acceptance rate, colleges included, UCLA is the only public university with the lowest acceptance rate while the college with the lowest acceptance rate is Dartmouth College. The rest of the U.S. higher educational institutions with low acceptance rates are privately-owned.Why do some colleges reject good students? ›
While there is some anecdotal evidence that overqualified students get rejected, these students aren't usually turned down because of their better-than-average grades or test scores. Most likely, the overqualified student isn't the right fit for a school or they haven't shown enough interest to admission officers.Why is going to college better than not going? ›
College graduates make more money.
The average college graduate makes $570,000 more than the average high school graduate over a lifetime.  Career earnings for college graduates are 71% to 136% higher than those of high school graduates.  The Federal Reserve Bank of New York…
Statistics show that the most competitive colleges in the U.S. are getting even more selective — applications in general were up by 10 percent between 2021 and 2022, making for a grueling and often-disappointing experience for applicants and their families.Is college worth it in 2023? ›
According to data published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the wage premium for early-career college graduates was 52%, or $17,680. The unemployment rate for college grads was also far lower in the first quarter of 2023 at 2.1% versus 6.9% for young workers without a college degree.Why has college tuition tripled in recent years? ›
There are a lot of reasons — growing demand, rising financial aid, lower state funding, the exploding cost of administrators, bloated student amenities packages. The most expensive colleges — Columbia, Vassar, Duke — will run you well over $50K a year just for tuition.What is the oldest age to take SAT? ›
The SAT examination has no official age limit for applicants. It does not have any minimum or maximum age limit. However, the examination is mostly taken by students in the age group 16-19 years as it is intended for high school students.Can you get a 1600 on the SAT without getting everything right? ›
As you can see with the above SAT scoring chart, it's possible to get some questions wrong and still earn the max SAT score. Generally speaking, you can miss 1-2 questions on each section and still get a perfect 1600.
Especially with the start of the pandemic, many colleges have chosen to move to a test-optional method. The SAT is becoming more and more obsolete, as studies have repeatedly emphasized that the SAT is not a very good predictor of college success.