How college admissions changed during Covid

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Harvard admitted 3.4% of its undergraduate applicants this year. Yale, 4.6%. Colombia only 3.7%. Last night at 7 p.m. on the East Coast, the eight colleges that make up the Ivy League let applicants know whether they were accepted or rejected.

After the pandemic forced most schools to adopt policies for admission to elective tests, applications have exploded from the most selective schools in the country. Some 57,435 students applied to Harvard, a 43% increase from the previous year. Harvard admitted 1,968, including those who applied early. Columbia received 60,551 applicants, a 51% increase, and admitted 2,218.

In their admissions announcements, schools touted the increased number of non-white students they had accepted and the number of people qualified to receive government Pell Grants, awarded to students from low-income families.

“We were thrilled to see the diversity and strength of this year’s applicant pool, especially in a year when no one could predict how this would change,” said William Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard. In fact, many college admissions professionals and advocates predicted that the pool of applicants would change, if only because Harvard and other elite schools did not require SAT or ACT scores. This prompted tens of thousands of students who couldn’t take a test, or who didn’t score well, to apply.

The message to students this year is mixed. In theory, they had a greater chance of making it to the top of college admissions and entering a highly selective school that promises to meet all of the students’ financial needs. But at Harvard, more than 95% of applications were rejected. Which means tens of thousands of aspiring Ivy Leaguers face disappointment and defeat.

Nonetheless, proponents of the opt-in and blind-test policies are proclaiming victory. “In the short term, the promises of the promoters of optional tests have all been upheld,” says Bob Schaeffer of FairTest, a non-profit organization that opposes the use of standardized tests in admissions. “Colleges ended up with more applicants, more qualified applicants and more diverse applicants and that was reflected in the people they admitted.”

But critics of America’s higher education system see history repeating itself, underscored by the infinitely low admission rates to top colleges. “We are dramatically increasing the gap in our society between those who enter and those who don’t,” says Martin Van Der Werf, associate director of the Center on Education and the Workforce in Georgetown. We see that even through a recession and a global pandemic, history does not change much in higher education. The rich are just getting richer and the poor are falling further and further behind. “

A survey of more than 15,000 students released on April 5 by EAB, an education consultancy firm that helps colleges maximize enrollment, expanded early reports that suggest many low-income students aren’t even planning to plan. go to college this year. Data from the National College Attainment Network showed that nearly 10% fewer high school students complete the federal student financial aid form known as FAFSA. Even if they want to go to college, the EAB survey shows how difficult it is for them to apply for funds. Some 40% of first-generation students and 37% of low-income students fill out the complicated form themselves.

Paul Tough, author of the book 2021, The inequality machine: how the university divides us, says the increase in students admitted to Harvard who qualify for the Pell scholarships, from 380 to 401, is a positive sign. “But it should be noted that this is a very small improvement,” he says. Tough thinks Harvard could easily have decided to make half of its admitted students Pell recipients and still had a very strong class. “It’s a choice on their part,” he says, “how much they need to diversify their class to keep their constituents happy.”

For example, it could be that Harvard has increased the percentage of Asian American students admitted to 27.2% from 24.5% last year because it is being sued for discriminating against Asian Americans. in admissions. Harvard prevailed in lower courts, but the plaintiffs, led by anti-affirmative activist Edward Blum, have asked the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Another reason why acceptances were so low at highly selective schools is that many students admitted in 2020 decided to take a gap year while schools retained their place. Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admissions at Duke, said 10% of places in the incoming class will be taken by students admitted last year and deferred. Duke said Monday it had admitted 2,014 applicants for a record 4.3% acceptance rate.

What about next year? Most schools have already announced that they will continue their voluntary testing policies for at least another year. Selective schools may see another crush of applicants. And as the country opens up, there will likely be more testing. Optional test means that schools do not need SAT or ACT scores to be admitted. But even during Covid, affluent families paid thousands of dollars to prep students and went to great lengths to get their students tested, sometimes flying to remote places where Covid protocols were lax and testing was available.

A positive point for students who were rejected from top-ranked schools: applications are down in less selective colleges. Some, like Ithaca College, still accept applications. Jeff Selingo, author of the 2020 book Who comes in and why, advises students who are unhappy with their choice to contact the schools on their backup list and ask if it is still possible to apply.

Large state university systems like the University of California have yet to release data on their incoming class composition, and elite schools like Harvard may never reveal how many of their admitted students have submitted results to the exams. tests. It also remains to be seen which students will be supportive. “I don’t think we’ll have a full picture of admissions until at least July,” says Selingo.

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