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

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This is not the place to diminish other users’ takeaways or to “explain” to a user the admission policies of a college; that violates ToS and is just inconsiderate.

So move on from analyzing ED percentages or demonstrated interest, as but 2 examples.

Some great points here. One of the ones we hadn’t thought about much until decisions were out, was cost. We had to ask as a family was the “public” top tier school worth as much as the top tier school? Why was the cost 20-40K more for OOS for public schools?

Had I known which schools kids was applying to in later Summer, the list would have shown that these top publics give no merit ( or very very little). We’re not eligible for FA, so we should have stuck to that knowledge. Also, we look for value so the $ should have been front and center and schools which didn’t give merit and were very costly and public should have been eliminated for us. We also should have weighed if we were willing to pay the same price for a public. as a private. ( We weren’t). But the cold weather had taken it off the table.

Also, my kid added schools that had criteria which had originally limited the school. Kid didn’t want cold state. So when acceptances came in for great schools in cold states like IL and MI, it came up again. Once you eliminate a school for a good reason (like weather, cost, program) don’t add it in back to get the requisite number of schools. The weather in MI is always going to be cold.

Learned a lot for the next round. It’s a crazy process. You just have to do lots of research. Trust your gut in terms of fit. Look at costs as value. For us, ROI is really important so some programs seemed to be worth more than others. Every family has to weigh all of the factors. They’ll come up with different conclusions. It’s hard.


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  1. The admissions process is really different than it was in your day. Your child may not get into schools that you (or even their older sibling just a few years ago) got into, even with better stats. Some schools you may remember as “safety schools” are now very difficult to get into.
  2. If you go to a public school, even a high resourced one, your guidance counselors are likely overburdened, so verify anything they say. For example, ours told us that our kid was out of luck after missing the PSAT during Covid. But I kept digging and found out about the Alternate Entry pathway using an SAT score instead.
  3. A lot of schools that used to give big merit just a few years ago are now shifting their money to need-based aid.
  4. Beware that there has been substantial grade inflation since you were a student, and apparently this has accelerated especially in the last 2 years. A “straight A student” is now commonplace. Also the SATs have been renormed. Today’s 1500 is more like 1375 was in your day.

A variation of this is: older sibling got into college X with a big merit scholarship some years ago. For the current high school senior with similar college admission credentials, college X may still be a likely or safety for admission, but the big merit scholarship is now much more competitive and unlikely.

Another variation is: the major that older sibling easily got into at college X is now much more competitive so that the current high school senior is unlikely to get into that major at college X.


Check the balance on your 529 and if it’s a critical source of funding for college think carefully about how much risk you are taking (ie how conservative or aggressive are your investment choices). Even a fairly conservative fund is likely to have dropped 5-10% since the beginning of this year. If it drops again will that affect the schools you can afford next year?


A lot of very good general advice regarding college admissions.

My specific takeaways from the last two cycles:

  1. Holistic admission favors more well rounded kids with inflated/higher GPAs. On the other hand, SAT/ACT scores have crept up because majority of those submitted scores tend to be on the higher end of the spectrum. So, for middle of the road kids (3.5/1200) with limited ECs, this is a double whammy.

  2. I see three groups of parents: (1) Tiger parents that want that sticker on the SUV and their kids. This makes up a large portion of T50 applicants. Seems like this number has mushroomed over the last decade or so as the middle class has gotten richer (9% syndrome.) So, it is not a surprise that most admission rates in selective schools is now around that number as well. OK, that was a joke. (2) Merit chasers. More practical parents that have high stats kids and they want money. What I have found out is that with very few exceptions, significant merit at public schools is becoming harder to come by with each passing year. I was shocked to learn that to be competitive for high merit $$ at a school like U of South Carolina, one needs ~1560 SAT and 4.6 GPA, plus strong ECs. Still this is a good route if you are seeking OOS options. (3) Everyone else. Most schools are looking to fill classes. Finding a school that will meet your budget is the key. My takeaway is that find the best sandbox for your kid in these crazy times by doing a lot of research. IPED should be your friend and you should know how to read the CDs.


4.6 HS GPA is not that high by the way South Carolina HS GPA is calculated.
https://ed.sc.gov/tests/tests-files/eocep-files/uniform-grading-policy-february-2018/ (page 3)

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Do they recalculate the SAT/ACT scores too? Just making sure. Lol.

I think T50s comprise a wide band. Typically, a 50th ranked school tends to be a state flagship with low acceptance rates only for OOS and for competitive majors. If you apply for a regular major and instate, they are not hard to get into. T20s and upto a 30th ranked, especially private schools, tend to be as hard to get into as you argue, simply because they don’t have many seats.

This has been true for many years now. My college grad 2020 had friends who got in NEU with good stats and at least some kind of scholarship. Now, forget it. My son, now a college junior, got into two colleges where literally two years before, kids with his stats were routinely offered scholarships yet he was offered nothing.

Is this all bad news though? As the popular (not necessarily elite) colleges get swamped with more apps and higher yield, those colleges don’t have to offer as many scholarships. The next level of colleges will become more popular as students discover they can still get both a good education and fun experience for less money if they look beyond where all their friends are going.


I agree with a lot of these point but not necessarily that something is “wrong” if UMich and Williams are on a student’s list. After all decisions were in, my S19’s final choices included Vanderbilt, Brown, Colgate and Georgia Tech - obviously very different from one another. However, financial considerations were at the top of the list. Also, my S liked things about each of those schools and thought he’d be happy at just about any college and I believed him. It depends on the student.

  1. Fit is far more important than ranking or prestige.

  2. Nothing is guaranteed; have more than one safety.

  3. If at all possible, visit every school to which you plan to apply. Your “dream school” based on rankings, reviews, pop culture, etc., may turn you off when you see the campus. Likewise, you may fall in love with a school that was initially low on your list after visiting (this happened to my son). Better yet, try to attend a summer program at your top choice before applying.

  4. Do your homework and get into the weeds when researching schools. Graduation rates, freshman return rates, salaries and grad school placement tell you more about the school than USNWR rankings. Drill down into the Common Data set for each school you are considering.

  5. There is a good chance you may change your major at college. Choose a school where you will have options.

  6. Life is not fair, and often does not make any sense. This applies to college admissions too. The good news is that you will do just fine, even if you don’t get accepted into your dream school.

  7. Prepare for the SAT and/or ACT. Despite the trend toward “test optional” admissions, if an admissions officer is reviewing two similar students for the last slot in an incoming class, and one student rocked the SAT and the other declined to send test scores, who do you think they will accept?

  8. Use your network to speak with current students and recent grads from schools you are researching to learn about their experiences, good and bad, free of marketing hype.

  9. Show genuine interest with campus visits, information sessions, summer programs, essays, etc. Applications to highly ranked schools have skyrocketed in the last few years, and schools want to admit students who will likely attend if accepted.

  10. College admissions has gotten crazy competitive. Set your expectations accordingly.


I could not disagree with this more. I am heading into my last kid applying next year and I am not even scared or nervous for them because I know what they face is impossible. And I know it is not their fault based on how similar kids have done this year which is beyond terrible. I am resigned. While I would normally have my kid start working on essays over the summer or retake SATs, I am not going to encourage them because what is the point. At least if they end up at their safety school they will have had a relaxing summer

I have been monitoring admissions since 2015 or earlier when my older ones applied. The reality is that Pre Covid if a 1520 - 1600/34 -36 4.0 student with good ECs, recommendations, rigor, and decent essays did not get into at least one of their mid level choices, something was wrong. Either their essays were terrible or they did not apply correctly or the recommendations were not what they thought they would be (I know a Sal 35 800 SATs2 who did this - she ended up getting a transfer to an Ivy and decided to stay at her #50 LAC. She is doing well now, in her case the essays were bad and she also applied badly, schools did not have her major). Pre Covid, while that student usually won’t get into Harvard (no one does!) they will get into one or more T30s or substantial merit or even a free ride at an OOS state school. And in prior years I knew average exceptional kids that did get into a HYP. In most cases they were not legacies, athletes and in some cases (but not all) needed full need met. Usually they got into one and an ED Ivy, not all three like you hear on the news.

This year none of that is true. I keep hearing about the Val of the suburban east coast high school who is not first generation, both parents went to college, 1590, did research at the CDC, started some type of program to help kids learn how to do research or whatever, SG President, all around nice kid who got into his or an OOS state school and did not get into any T40 (never mind T30 or T20 school, never mind an Ivy although he was wait listed and then rejected at 6, one still pending, and did not even get significant merit or get into the honors program at the state school. I have heard variations of this story over and over and these are people that I know personally or someone I know knows well. These are not made up stories it was the worst year I have ever seen, even worse than 2019 when RD was a blood bath for the average exceptional as well. Also for the first time ever I heard of suitable kids getting rejected outright in ED at Ivies and when applying SCEA. I have never heard of that unless the student was below the school’s cutoff and these were not. Yes I have heard of them getting rejected eventually but not in the ED round.

The weird part this year was it was actually a good year for 1400 3.7 kids. Those students got in at Lehigh, NE, Tulane and other places. Usually they showed interest or applied ED2. In one case twins were applying, both RD one had a 1400 and the other was much more motivated, the 1400 got in and the 1500+ was waitlisted! Although they were applying to different majors so perhaps that made a difference. I do not know a single happy story about a top kid this year and some of these kids really had tremendous achievements


I think you should not get disheartened, and should apply as if it is a reasonable year. It is not bad all around. I haven’t kept track at our school, but I heard it was not terrible. It is hit and miss. My son with a 3.3 got into 4 state flagship CS programs. By next year a few handful of colleges will remove test optional and that will also improve the situation further. This environment cannot be good for the colleges either. Best to get the essays started right away. Those really make a difference.

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On the flip side, I was in a private Facebook group with a college counselor and about 750 parents. There is not one story at the extreme that you are mentioning. Kids didn’t necessarily get into their first choice, but almost all got into the band/level of schools that seemed commensurate with the totality of their application. None were shut out like you are describing.

Our own experience (my daughter had great results both in terms of schools and merit) and my sense from that group with 750 parents was that the results this year were not that much different than when my older daughter applied.

The actual data will be interesting to see which anecdotal story is more accurate.


My older son who is a junior at college also told me that the perception on campus is that this is a normal year, with perhaps some bleed further along the lines of the hooks.

Our experience and observation at D’s public elite school this year has been very much in line with @LRLMom’s. The school used to send between 40-45% of its graduating class to a T20. This year it was under 20% for similarly situated kids.

Perhaps the more surprising result was that schools that were carefully selected as likelies, rejected or waitlisted high stat kids in large numbers.

Our GCs too very surprised by this year’s cycle. May be it varies by high school and region. Perhaps it was more “normal” for some and different for others.

I’m curious to understand how the students would know. Surely they don’t have access to the application pools, past and present?