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

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.


Yes, the trend over the years is that the more selective / prestigious group of universities has been getting more selective (and therefore less predictable as their applicant pools become more stats-compressed at the top of the scale) due to increased interest in them. Meanwhile, other colleges (e.g. non flagship-level state universities and private schools of similar selectivity) are often finding declining interest.

This “flight to [perceived] quality” may have to do with general social and economic trends, where the economy is becoming more unequal, and close to zero-sum for the bottom 90% (i.e. most gains from economic growth accrue to those already at the top, rather than being widely distributed). The typical forum demographic (“upper middle class” / “semi-rich” 80th-99th percentile income and wealth families) also sees much more room for downward mobility than upward mobility for their kids, and may be associating attendance at an elite college as something that substantially improves the chance of upward mobility from the “upper middle class” / “semi-rich” starting point. However, that thinking is probably not limited to the “upper middle class” / “semi-rich”, as hinted in Try Harder!.

However, COVID-19-related changes, including test-optional and test-blind policies, added to the whiplash that college applicants saw. Lots of students and parents leaned on SAT/ACT scores to compare themselves with colleges (although they may have leaned on them too much relative to many college’s level of consideration of them); without that, they may have tried for reachier applications while worrying about increased application volume at their more match-level schools. Additionally, the “upper middle class” / “semi-rich” may have felt that they lost one of the types of college admission credentials that they were strongest in.


Ppl greatly over-estimate their chances at highly-rejective schools… no, your 4.0 unweighted GPA, 1560 SAT, role as class President and model UN awards do not mean you have a 40% chance of getting into Pomona, Amherst, Stanford, or Princeton.

Likewise, high achievers assume “safeties/likelies” will clamor to admit them based on their stats and are shocked when they are rejected. Had they spent more time researching, visiting, and getting to know those colleges, their knowledge and love for the school would have shone through and they might have been admitted.


I was thinking same. Don’t overlook Canadian schools.

Really consider your major. For engineering as long as the program is ABET accredited going to a top school isn’t necessary. Similar for Accounting, Nursing or Teaching. No pay premium for going to more expensive schools.

Plus the college experience the past few years and probably the next few years hasn’t been ideal on several fronts. Temper expectations.

Maybe consider moving to less expensive states or states that have a geographical boost. How many Ivy applicants from North Dakota vs New York.


Let’s get back to topic please. The thread title is (emphasis mine) “What are your top takeaways learned from the most recent admissions cycle for rising seniors about to apply?” The thread title is not “Debate everyone else’s PoV.”

Expressing that your takeaway is different is fine; dominating the thread with your alternative is not.

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I posted some insights already…but here is another. If money is an issue, be sure to understand which schools offer merit and which schools offer need-based aid only. Then, distingush between need-blind schools for admissions and schools that aren’t need-blind. It affects your chances. Schools that are need-blind and promise to meet 100% of demonstrated need are the sweet spot - but these schools tends to be highly exclusive (like Williams, Bowdoin, Amherst, and Ivies). But you shouldn’t not apply to these schools because of their price tags. If you can get in, they will meet 100% of your need. Most schools can’t claim that.


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I don’t know if this is a novel takeaway since my oldest child is a senior this year and it is my first cycle. However here is my financial aid takeaway

If your kid is applying to a meets need school, but you are worried that the net price calculator may be inaccurate or your finances are unusual, you can talk to the financial aid offices on the phone before submitting an application.

In my experience, several financial aid offices had very nice people who were willing to answer questions about our specific financial situation and how it would likely play out if my kid decided to apply. All I had to do was ask for a phone appointment and each office spent about 15 minutes on the phone with me in August and September. When one of the officials didn’t know the answer to one of my questions, he was willing to talk to his colleagues and then as promised, he emailed me a few days later with an answer. While they didn’t quote exact figure, the financial aid officers were able to discuss whether their NPC was likely to be accurate given our specific situation.

These conversations helped distinguish which schools would likely be feasible for us before my kid got their heart set on applying to them. Thus we were able to eliminate one school from her list and add a couple of others. An official at my child’s original first choice college explained why it would be better NOT to apply early decision to that school despite the fact that she liked it very much. They advised us to just wait until RD so that we would be able to compare offers and possibly negotiate if my kid ended up with a better package from another meets need college. This turned out to be really wise advice because in April, we were able to point out that other colleges had interpreted the CSS differently.


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.

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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.

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