Expanding on your point #2 - I’ve read some people here on CC dismiss such concerns by saying “XYZ college does not admit by major”. They miss the point that even if these schools don’t explicitly admit by major they will look at an applicant’s intended major (which the applicant might have listed as an area of interest or mentioned in their essay) when making offers if it’s an impacted major. They know for example how many CS kids they can accommodate and that factors into their admission decision.
What are your top takeaways learned from the most recent admissions cycle for rising seniors about to apply?
Spend the bulk of your time researching, visiting, and falling in love with schools that have a 40% or higher acceptance rate.
You can visit Stanford and Yale (& the like!) AFTER you’ve been admitted! Chances are, 95% of the time it will have been a waste of time and money to visit earlier.
I think at the ivies at least, ED is still mostly filled by ALDC candidates, leaving the vast majority who applied ED left to contend for the remaining spots. For example. Something like 9,460 students applied EA at Harvard and they accepted 740? 90% of recruited athletes are accepted and they make up 20% of the admitted class, but most of that 20% probably comes from EA. Another 15% comes from legacy, so that is about 391 and 293, or a combined 684 just from the A & the L. Most of the A & the L in ALDC are probably applying EA. So, I think without even factoring in D&C, it’s safe to say EA is still mostly wrapped up by ALDC, at least at the ivies. If anything, chances have gone down significantly because EA and ED application numbers have gone up significantly, so now the non ALDC, who likely make up the vast majority of those applications, are competing against many more applicants, whereas before most of the EA applicants were ALDC. So yes, anybody can apply ED/EA, and more are than ever before, but the admitted in that pool are still mostly ALDC.
In today’s hyper competitive environment (which is very real no matter how much people try to deny it), it is ok to apply to only 5 colleges, but if your child only applies to 5 colleges I have the following advice. I would make sure 1 of them is a stat based, rolling admission, you will be accepted within 5-10 days of submitting your app and probably receive good merit scholarships. Make 1 of them an ultra safety, 1 or 2 safeties and 1 or 2 targets. Because one of the safeties is probably now a target and the target might not be a target anymore. Do not apply to 5 targets or 4 targets and 1 safety. I don’t know if I would apply to a reach with only 5 applications in todays applicant pool and environment. From everything else I have observed (results) over the last year on CC, the lines have moved. Also, although my child did very well with acceptances (with the exception of Ivy) she knows many students who were not accepted anywhere except their safeties or their auto-admits. So, whether it’s 3, 5, 8 or 10, I think as many people have said balance is key. But I think many have tried to say and people don’t want to hear, the lines have been moving the past 5 years, but especially the last two years, so don’t look at 5 or 10 year old data. Don’t look at pre-covid data. If it predates 2020, it’s probably irrelevant.
Common App- it’s a horrible tool, if somebody figures out how to make that thing useful (and yet, not as bad as apply Texas). It is restrictive and limiting and not in a good way and like everything, everything has to be about school school School. So if you are for example somebody who is possibly an Olympic hopeful or do anything at an elite level, training 20-40 hours a week outside of school, there is no good way to convey that in common app (and most scholarship applications either- yeah, throwing lots of shade at you Coca Cola scholarship app). There is no good way to convert awards and honors form outside school either. It ends up making your application look empty - if you are lucky the school accepts resumes too. People hate common app because it means kids can apply to 20 schools easily- I hate common app because its terrible. Still never understood why for some schools it sent her AP scores and for others it sent the list without the scores.
Speaking of terrible tools - beware Naviance. Keep a very close eye on what Naviance does because in my daughter’s case it sent things to schools that it should not have sent. Specifically a LoR. It was set up properly in Naviance to be unique to one school only. Noticed somewhere along the line that it had been sent to several schools. D checked with teacher and she confirmed that she mentioned the university by name in her LoR. D talked to GC and confirmed it was set up properly in Naviance - called Naviance and they couldn’t explain why it was sent to multiple schools. They were basically like “oh well”. Did it impact the decision of a couple schools? Possibly, we’ll never know.
For students possessing strong stats (GPA, SAT/ACT, APs) and who would be enthusiastic about an international experience, perhaps apply to a few non-US schools, whether in Canada (probably the most straight forward), UK (relatively straightforward except for Oxbridge), or Netherlands/Ireland/Singapore/etc.
University admissions in these countries are usually more predictable and, for families that are full-pay at US schools, studying abroad will likely be cheaper.
this. To add further: In addition to making it harder than advertised for those interested in popular/impacted majors, IMO this situation can be an advantage for those interested in undersubscribed areas. It’s one anecdote, obviously, but I strongly suspect that a key factor in D22’s RD admission to a T20 (as an unhooked suburban middle-class female) was her stated interest - supported by appropriate ECs - in an uncommon major.
I concur that Naviance is possibly the worst software I have ever encountered, and I’ve seen my fair share. If you do one thing wrong, you can never undo it, that I could discover (like, for instance, indicate a LoR should be sent to all schools instead of specific schools).
Don’t shop on the Rolls Royce lot if you can only afford a Honda (good advice in general).
Too many people seem to think that they are competitive for the top scholarships at the top universities in the US. Really? Let’s do some math here (using only one qualification). Annually, there are roughly 16,000 National Merit Semifinalists. In the aggregate, that is MORE than the entire entering freshman class at all of the Ivies. Yet, NMSFs are often rejected at these schools (because spots are taken by athletes, children of donors, children of politicians, etc.). So, unless you are at the top of your class, a NMSF, or have a near perfect ACT/SAT, do not assume you will get into a top school…at all. If you applied to all the Ivies, you might get into one, but is it the one you want? GPA amongst high school students is over-inflated. It just is. I have seen self-reported weighted GPAs as high as a 7.00. Really? What scale was that? University admission officers are not stupid. They are looking at the classes you are taking. A B+ or an A- in a IB HL course means more (on average) than an A in other courses (in fact IB DP students are heavily recruited). Lastly, your major matters (especially if you are currently applying to computer science). If you are applying to computer science at a top school, you just grossly increased the scale of difficulty. The data is there (for example, OOS admissions to CS at U. of Washington in 2020 was less than 3%). Finding a seat may be more important than head hunting, especially if the data on end results is similar.
Even if you have all of the above, don’t assume that you will have much of a chance to get into a “top” (most selective) private college at all.
To have much of a chance at the “top” (most selective) private colleges, you probably need:
- Top end high school record (top grades in the most demanding course options in all academic areas).
- Top end test scores, for test-optional or test-required colleges. (May be less important for applicants from relatively disadvantaged situations.)
- One of the following:
- A state or national level award, recognition, or achievement. (Climbing out of a disadvantaged situation may itself be seen as part of a high level achievement.)
- A minor hook (e.g. legacy or URM, if considered by the college; lower level development relation is probably in this category) and a high level award, recognition, or achievement (more than local or school level).
- A major hook (e.g. higher level development relation). (Recruited athlete is generally both a major hook and a high level recognition or achievement.)
- Good essays (hard to know from outside the admissions office how they compare).
- Good recommendations (hard to know from outside the admissions office how they compare).
- No “defects” (from the college’s point of view).
- Being the type of applicant that the college has a need for and sees as a “fit” (for the college).
- The relative popularity of your intended major (which should be consistent with the rest of your application) at the college (whether or not it explicitly admits by major) is included in how the college sees you as a “fit”.
- “Fit” from the college’s point of view may differ from (or often be the opposite of) “fit” from the applicant’s point of view.
That might be true for Harvard, but Penn accepted over 1200 ED applicants for the Class of 2026. Assuming they have similar athletic and legacy policies, that left over 600 non-ALDC ED spots for a class size of 2400.
The next round of applicants will actually have the opportunity to visit colleges and go inside buildings. Take advantage of the opportunity if you can. (My standard advice is to visit when classes are in session if you want your kid to like the school.)
Check out your in-state publics. The publics don’t protect yield so you can avoid some of the competitive game playing going on in the lower admission rate privates. However, you can get an edge at many publics by applying earlier in the admissions cycle.
Not sure I agree with the statement that the state Universities do not protect yield is universally correct. They are working with yield prediction in some cases. UCI was notorious this year by rejecting or waitlisting applicants that were accepted at Berkeley, UCLA, UCHICAGO, MIT and Ivies.
The dean of admissions was interviewed regarding that.
Agreed. UMich is also known to yield protect.
If 20% and 15% are A and L, that is 35% of 2400, which is 840, leaving 360. That doesn’t account for the 10% D and 1% C. But if we just take the 10% for D, that is another 240, leaving you 120 spots left, minus 24 for the Cs, leaving 96, not 600. Sure, not all of the ALDCs will apply ED, but most of them will. For those who don’t, some of those “walk-on” athletes will make up for it, trying to secure a spot. Even if we say only 5000 of the 7795 ED applications were not ALDC (and I think that is being generous), that would be less than a 2% acceptance rate. Granted these numbers are all estimates because schools don’t release a lot of these details - but I have seen multiple sources put recruited athlete numbers in that same percentages and put overall ALDC in the 60-90% of ED/EA acceptances range (so 720-1080 range for UPenn). Usually when I see a number listed lower than that, they are giving the percentage as a function of the total number of accepted students, not as a function of the EA/ED applicants. For Harvard they say it is 60% of the overall accepted students (50% if you take away the extra 10% for walk-on athletes) - so that would be 1200 to 1440 of the 2400 accepted at UPenn if the numbers are roughly the same. Most of whom would probably have applied ED. The schools will vary some, but it will still be a significant portion. For Harvard, the 50% or 60% of 1954 far exceeds the 740 they accepted EA, so clearly some were deferred and accepted RD and some applied RD.
And all the top 1% or even top 10 students posting on the UT Austin thread that they were rejected by their majors, typically engineering, CS or Business, but some others too (even though they were auto admit to the university)
You wouldn’t go by percent. At least not for sports teams. Penn doesn’t have more athletes just because it’s a bigger school. Unless they have significantly more sports teams than Harvard, they would have roughly the same number of athletes. A better argument might be made for using a percent for legacies.
But, thank you for your thoughts on the subject.
When people talk about reach / match / safety, they are not all talking about the same schools at each level. A match for one student could be a safety for another, a reach for a third, and out of reach for a fourth. Your statement does not consider that, and could result in some students aiming too high, and others too low.
Here is my suggested change:
Spend the bulk of your time researching, visiting, and falling in love with schools that have a 40% or higher acceptance rate for candidates like you.
Indeed, among schools that field a large set of sports teams, the recruited athletes will consume a larger percentage of the class at smaller schools (e.g. NESCAC LACs) than at larger schools (e.g. state flagships). The smaller schools may also be more likely to privilege athletic ECs over other ECs in regular admissions to ensure a sufficient pool of walk-ons (note that Harvard has a separate rating for athletic ECs versus other ECs in preliminary application reading).
High stats alone won’t get you in to top schools. The stats only let you clear the bar to qualify before their holistic admissions evaluation begins. You can’t know if you will have the attributes they need to fill out their class. So apply to more schools and don’t get too attached to any one school.
ED at many smaller colleges is not much easier to get into than RD. Those spots mostly go to athletes, URMs, legacy and other hooked students. If you are none of the above, the acceptance rate ED is not much higher than than the acceptance rate RD.
Yield protection is real at many schools. We ended up with more “waitlists” at match schools than at reach schools where we had comparatively higher acceptances.
Some take aways and plot twists -
Spend 90% of your college search and application time researching and visiting the schools you have a 50% to 90% chance of getting into. Spend 10% of your time on the applications for those colleges that are reaches for everyone or have the perceived prestige you can’t seem to get over.
Only have schools on your list you would like to go to and can afford with out financial ruin.
Private scholarships do not really exist to pay for a 4 year experience, so posting in April asking about were to apply for those is impossible for anyone to assist with. But college based merit scholarships and need based aid exists and you need to know where you tip the scales in your favor - it is not in the T20 for even top students unless they have demonstrated need.
If you post on CC you have applied to all the Ivy Leagues, MIT, Stanford, Duke, and Rice - you have not done the work and you do not know what kind of college experience you want. Go visit local campuses just to start to get a feel for what you like and dislike - urban/rural, programs of unique interest to you, etc…
Shift away from the negative connotations of the safeties- colleges and flagship honors program that were safeties shifted for even top students. Parents and students posted on CC devastated they would have to pick from the schools they did get into or acted like they had been rejected everywhere when in fact on their other strands it was evident they just did not care for those they were accepted to.
Those optional essays are not optional. Apply to fewer colleges, but put more into telling them who you are and how you see yourself at their colleges
Apply to one local college just to have that option in the Spring so you do not have to scramble if life takes a different turn than anticipated.
Make sure colleges have mental health supports - you don’t know what you will need until you do.
And do not miss out on your senior year stressed out about the next 4 years of college. Find time to hang out with friends and your family. Relax a little.