What are your top takeaways learned from the most recent admissions cycle for rising seniors about to apply?

The caveat being that what you think you can afford and what the school thinks you can afford don’t always line up. It’s important to get clarity because most people are unable to walk away once accepted.

Lessons from where we stand:

  • Show love to all of your schools, no matter where they rank on your list.

  • Always take the interview opportunity. Make sure to book it early - top schools fill up before you might think.

  • Schools in the Midwest are too often overlooked because of perceived lack of name recognition. The ppl that matter know them and the offer generous merit.

  • Some may disagree but treat a deferral as a rejection and move on to an E2 option if you have clear second choice.

  • Always apply early where possible.

  • If competitive at top schools in the regular regular, cast a wide net - admissions can be quite random. However, please make sure your list still makes sense, just because two are Ivy it does not mean that you should apply to both. If UMich and Williams are on your list, something is wrong.


From the most recent cycle, a TO applicant can have good results with many colleges offering merit aid. If you have the option to interview and write a supplemental essay, do it. Educate yourself about the college to write a compelling “why us” essay.

Northeastern and BU are not safety schools. Also BU just raised its tuition so look at that.

Agree with applying EA if possible. UMD-CP fills 97% of its class in the the EA round.

Even with submitting FAFSA and CSS it seemed like every college had its own forms to complete😯

Naviance/Scoir is not the holy grail but can be helpful in tempering expectations, i.e. no acceptances from our non-NC high school to UNC CH since 2004.


The most important step (in my opinion) is to do a financial deep dive- not just “surely we can swing XK a month so that Sally can attend her dream college”.

Maybe you can. Maybe you can’t. Belt tightening is a funny thing. If it were so easy, you’d have already done it, and you’d have been socking that money away. But you didn’t- and it’s not always so easy.

You need to identify all your financial obligations- on one spreadsheet, or at least written down. You need to identify all your future financial obligations (you’ve got an adjustable rate mortgage? Boy, I have some sad news for you…). You need to identify the things that are not “must have’s” but are must have’s for you- your charitable donations, tutoring for a younger child, etc.

I hear this all the time “But last year my niece got married and we all had to fly to Napa for her destination wedding and the vineyard was so expensive”. Yup, once in a lifetime expense. Except if you have 12 nieces and nephews, all of whom expect to see you at their “once in a lifetime” event. Or “but last month my muffler fell off and the fridge died”-- like you’ll never have an unexpected car or household repair in the four years your kid is in college?

Get a grip on the actual amount of money AVAILABLE for college, not the amount in your head you think you can cash flow. Investments go up AND down. Home values go up AND down.

The rest is gravy. There are thousands and thousands of families looking at a diminished 529 balance this morning thinking “maybe I should have moved money out of equities when the market was doing so well”. yup. coulda shoulda woulda.


With the massive increase in the numbers of applications due to test-optional, combined with yield protection, it’s more important than ever to stand out.
-If you have anything that can be considered a hook at all, make sure it is highlighted in your application and essays.
-Test-optional will not make it easier for a non-hooked candidate to get into their reach school. Not submitting a good test score gives the school one less reason to see you as a match for them. If you have a strong hook or quasi hook, that may replace a strong test score.
-Demonstrate interest as much as possible to protect against yield protection.
-Use REA strategically and based on your own risk aversion. Want to use your ED card at your T10 dream school where you have 1% chance of admission? That’s fine, if you accept you are very very likely throwing away your ED card. Or consider using your ED card at a high match that you love (and can afford. Don’t even be afraid to use ED at a straight-match, if it’s truly your number one choice and you can afford it.

1 Like

Ditch restrictive EA/ED at highly rejective schools unless you have a hook. Instead, apply EA to schools you would be happy to attend, offer merit, and you have a good shot at getting in. Your mental health will thank you if you have an early acceptance you are happy about. And you will be able to pare down the RD applications you need to submit. You can still apply ED2 to some great schools, to boot.

The admissions rate for RD at highly rejective schools isn’t all that different than ED for the unhooked masses - they are both abysmally low. If you are unhooked and in love with a school isn’t super rejective, maybe ED1 makes sense. But other than that, the disappointment of early rejection is a huge stressor and could send you into a huge, unnecessary panic of last minute research and more applications than you really need.

ETA: big trips to visit lots of campuses aren’t essential for all kids. Ask “is there something I can learn that would change my mind about applying to school X”. If you are going to apply to a super elite school no matter what, save the trip for when you get in.

Also, kids grow and change a lot between junior and senior year. Schools they think they want spring break junior year may be completely irrelevant by spring senior year. Be open to evolving- which is another argument against ED1.


It is worth remembering that the end of the day, all colleges want to admit enough qualified students so that they fill their beds after taking yield into account.

Importantly, the number of highly qualified students has not changed much in the last few years. What has changed is the number of applications for the top 50-100 colleges. Given the same number of highly qualified students and beds, the increase in applications means that for most colleges, the yield goes down. Low yield is bad for colleges as they find it hard to predict who will actually attend. The colleges now put more emphasis on yield protection, admitting not just the most qualified students, but the qualified students that they perceive will actually attend.

This unpredictability creates worry, as you wonder if it will be you or your child that gets “yield protected” out of the schools they would otherwise be admitted to if college admissions was more rational. I get that.

But the way to minimize the chance of that happening is to have a good set of match and safety schools AND give those apps as much or more attention to those apps than to the reach schools. A high quality application will result in more perceived interest and higher likelihood of admission. In my children’s case, after they completed each reach app, I had them complete an app for a match and a safety with the same care.

ETA: One other thing is that my children completed all their apps before hearing from their early schools. One got into her first choice early and was done, so the remaining apps were “wasted effort” but she was so happy it didn’t bother her. The other didn’t get into first choice early, and having those apps done with care well ahead of time paid off immensely in terms of higher quality and reduced stress the last two weeks of December.


I used to think this was true, but the definition of “highly qualified” has expanded and therefore the highly qualified applicant pool along with it - more women applying to stem schools, more urms are applying across the board, test optional gives some students an entryway that would otherwise self-select themselves out of applying, schools are getting better at outreach, more financial aid is available to coax students into applying.


I agree with most of your points and partly agree with this one as well, but I would say something may be wrong. People always say you can’t like schools like Michigan and Williams for example or Columbia and Brown or NYU and fill in the blank. But I think assumptions are made when statements like that are made. Somebody may love Brown’s open curriculum and prefer it to Columbia’s core, but they may really love NYC and may be willing to go with the core to live in NYC. The same way somebody could have some strong desire for some program at Michigan, but may also really love something about Williams. I don’t think it is unusual for people to have multiple likes and dislikes. I went to a decent sized school in a city with a city campus (although I still say it had a well defined campus- currently about 15,000 undergrads). But I would have loved going to a small LAC or a school like Brown and had considered applying but I didn’t apply to Brown or any LACs because they didn’t support my major, at least not at the time. I had considered NYU and came close to applying but in the end I did not and I don’t remember why. But I had to make cuts because I only applied to 4 schools. So, instead of saying things like “people can’t like Haverford (used to be all men) and Barnard (is all women)”, it should be more- be aware of the differences in your school list when compiling it and make sure it makes sense for you. :grin: You, could be right, the two different schools could mean a horrible fit for one, or it could mean the student has diverse tastes or that there is something particular about each that is attracting the student.

I still don’t know how you demonstrate interest. If driving halfway across the country to tour a campus and applying as well as writing the “why U?” Essay doesn’t demonstrate interest I don’t know what does. I guess liking their social media posts??? :face_with_raised_eyebrow: I guess stop reading email in preview mode in case they track opening email which seems intrusive and kind of stupid if they think that is the only way to “demonstrate interest”. A student can read their entire website and watch all the videos on it without them being aware.

On the multiple posts about applying early as much as possible. That works for rolling admission schools and I highly recommend it for schools like uT Austin, Pitt and Michigan and others. But EA, ED you can only apply to one and I saw countless posts over the last 6 months where people listed all the schools they applied to ED or ED and EA in clear violation of the schools’ policies. So, just to be clear for those applying next year- apply early as much as you can y rolling admission schools- only apply ED or EA to one non rolling admission school. If you get deferred or rejected ED1 or ED, you are free to pursue ED2.


Well said.

Similarly, some kids may not have strong preferences for urban vs. rural or big vs. small, and those attributes aren’t going to be dealbreakers in their decision making process, or even significant factors at all.

1 Like

Slight clarification: you should only apply to one ED or REA school but you can apply to as many EA schools as you like.


For true safeties, consider auto-admission schools, if you have the stats.

And do your best to show interest – no school wants to be seen as a backup, especially selective privates outside about the top 20. Many of them are fierce about protecting yield. Also, if such schools have a non-binding early round of applications – I’m looking at a school like Tulane – send it then. RD admit rates seem to be plummeting, as apps rise and more and more schools are relying increasingly on early rounds to fill their classes.

1 Like

I am going to link to my response in another thread that shows the evolution of our own thinking about what mattered most. As it turned out, the school my D22 will attend very nearly didn’t make her application list because we weren’t asking enough of the right questions early enough in the process:


Yes — Visit the campus if possible. If not, at least register for virtual sessions. Yes, a STRONG “why this school” essay. Research the school so you’re not just making generic points. “I want to study under Professor ____ and I’m excited for the _____ program that will let me further my interest in ______.” Detailed demonstration of interest. And engage with the school – Not just opening the email, but sending personalized emails to the admission officer for your region to ask questions.

Maybe some people are violating policies. But I think you’re generally just seeing people group together ED1, ED2 and EA. “I’m going to apply to these 5 schools early” – meaning an ED1, an ED2 if rejected from ED2, and a bunch of EA.

And circling back – ED/EA is part of demonstrated interest. Applying ED is the ultimately demonstration of interest, it’s the strongest way imaginable to tell a school that they are your first choice.


I’m seeing that in my own son… And in reality, you can’t fully expect a 17-18 year-old to fully know exactly what type of school they are going to love. They should research and try to figure it out, but they won’t know with certainty until years later.
It’s ok to fall in love with totally different schools for different reasons. Or there may be a couple critical similarities about totally different schools. Maybe a student doesn’t care about big or small, urban or rural, they primarily care about the strength of a particular major.
Especially at the application stage, it’s ok to like more than one type of school. Unless the application fees are going to hurt your finances, it’s ok to apply to lots of schools and decide more firmly after your get acceptances and financial aid packages.


This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.


Sorry, Good point! There are schools that do not restrict Early Action, but once you choose a Single choice early action or a restrictive early action college or an ED college, you cannot apply to any others. I saw multiple posts where people listed their ED/REA results for multiple schools among the Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, Cornell, Penn, Brown, Notre Dame and others among the ED set like NEU, NWU, BU, NYU, sometimes many of them. Anyway- don’t do that. :grin:

1 Like

My takeaways from D22’s experience:

  1. It helps to be done with SAT/ACT junior year.
  2. There’s no need to think about college admissions (other than standardized testing) before April of junior year. D22 changed her field of study about 10 times during 9th-11th grades.
  3. It helps to work on the college list and main essay during the summer. It’s much harder to do everything while school & extracurriculars are going on.
  4. Keep the whole process student centric. Don’t take over as a parent. But do help with time management.
  5. Any schools your student is considering for ED should definitely be visited. And researched a lot. Attend as many virtual sessions as they can. We debated ED schools and whether to do it for a couple of months in late summer/early fall. ED is a commitment more than it’s a strategy. Make sure your kid (or you) won’t have buyer’s remorse. Figure out what your child will do if they get deferred from ED.
  6. Always apply to a couple of in-state publics even if you want to go out of state. Better chances of getting in and usually cheaper. Also finances, health (as it did for me), etc can change a lot and you should keep options open.
  7. Applying to a few EA or rolling admissions who can give you a decision in November or December can take some of the pressure off. You can also take some schools off your RD list as a result.
  8. In fact, D22 applied EA to every school in her list that offered it.
  9. We realized in October that some colleges had earlier deadlines or priority dates for scholarships. Do your research on time for that.
  10. If every application requires 1-3 supplemental essays, about 10 colleges is when your child might start feeling like it is too much. I don’t recommend applying to more than 10-12.
  11. I asked D22 to prioritize her college list once it had been narrowed down. Then she updated it regularly based on visits and more research/virtual events. This list should not focus on rankings or reach/target/likely but on how much the student would like to enroll there.
  12. I am mentioning finances now but that research should happen before you start working on a broad college list. While in the end you can cash flow or borrow money short term for paying for college, you should be sure that your current finances can handle the cost of attendance. Communicate well with your kid about what you can afford and how.

This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.


Or if your top choice is an affordable college that you are “overqualified” for but which tends to reject or waitlist “overqualified” applicants for yield protection (e.g. American University, which says that level of interest is very important), applying ED is the strongest possible way to show a high level of interest to reduce the risk of this kind of outcome.


I’m not sure there’s anything new or novel this admissions cycle. The trend has been around for years, perhaps just accelerated due to the pandemic. As a rising senior, if you’re doing what your other classmates are doing and hoping for better outcomes at highly selective/rejective colleges, you’ll be more likely disappointed in the next cycle, unless you’re strongly hooked or an academic superstar (which isn’t defined by 4.0/36/1580+).