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

  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?

At my D’s high school they report where students matriculate each and every year. This year didn’t look very different than in years past. Same for my niece’s school. Still waiting to see the matriculations from my new local HS but in talking to parents, it doesn’t seem like a big change.

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I’d be curious to hear any ‘geographic diversity’ feedback. For my Colorado D22 she outperformed on her east coast/Midwest appplications than West coast applications as I predicted to her. CA/WA/OR isn’t interested in any more CO kids they have plenty. So much so D23 is focusing in those east regions since she liked all the schools we visited. As for D22 she chose a lower ranked west coast school as she hates the cold. And the one school in the south she loved rejected her even though it was a ‘safety’. We were prepared though as for the first time I swear half her class applied. This could be a covid anomaly or a trend…


have a d23; lots of ‘22 friends - from a low income public HS in the MW.
i look at this stuff (like probably the rest of you!)
Our state flagship gives full tuition schollys to kids with high gpas and 32 ACTs. The last few years there’s been around 12/ 500 in our kids’ classes.

this year; the the state flagship didnt consider ACTs; just GPA; 45 out of 500 received that scholarship. (the HS grades easily to get its kids to graduate!)

to me, this is a clue on how not looking at test scores can affect lots of things. More people will apply; the pool is larger – for competitive scholarships as well as admissions, and admissions to a major of choice.


Our school (a good, not great public HS) had unusually disappointing results also. From 2016-2020, there were usually 2 or 3 going to Ivies and perhaps 10 students total going to various T50s. This year 0 Ivies and about 3 in T50s.


If you had a hook, you were more likely to be admitted to t20s. It seems emphasis on first-generation and diversity were looked at. Essays were more in play. Universities were looking for more diversity also in geography and international.

Curious if you were looking for aid and how you saw that play out geographically vs simple accept/decline rates. In CO too. Thx.

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No big difference, anecdotally, between this year and last at well-regarded publics and independent schools in Westchester County. There had already been a “shakeout” of sorts well before last year, definitely nothing like 45% of kids going to T20s or unhooked non-superstars frequently getting into Ivies, so maybe the baseline was different.

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We weren’t really looking for aid, merit yes but D22 was not interested in the schools that offered her merit. We had to say no to privates with no merit on both east and west coast. I saw more impact on acceptance not merit.

I didn’t read through all of the responses but our biggest surprise was that merit was pretty unpredictable. We are full pay and chased merit. Schools where we thought (based on stats and common data set info) she would get good money gave nothing, but she got great offers from some others where her stats were strong but not necessarily in the top 15 percent. We had two that we thought were safeties based on stats (much higher than the middle 50) and anticipated merit that ended up being unaffordable. One was her top choice. Kids with much lower stats received big packages but she got nothing - made no sense. But it probably worked out as it should because she’s headed to a better school with better programs for her interests.


Some truth to this. I think wealthy colleges that wanted to diversify have been able to do just that. Others did not care as much. The colleges that got screwed were generally non name brand LACs, particularly privates. I believe yield has been down significantly with less students enrolling.

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Curious what her intended major was. My son, a rising senior, will be applying as a history major, with ECs to back it up. I’m hoping that will be helpful. Thoughts?

I saw that and said well, there are a lot of “wrong” applications out there, whether it’s UMich/Williams or Berkeley/Pomona say. Anyway as you mentioned, kids pretty much think they can fit in anywhere, sure they’ll have preferences but they won’t think twice when applying to Cornell and Columbia.

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I appreciate the sentiment but honestly I have heard too many bad stories. Again, I am specifically talking about the kids in that top band And yes the 1400 kids did very well for the most part. The 1500 - 1600 kids were blown out of the water. It was not all the bands, just the highest band that had the problem, if anything the 1350 - 1400 kids in some cases did better than expected and sometimes even better than their higher scoring twin. And it was not because one wrote a better essay, in the cases I know of, the higher scoring twin was the more motivated and made sure their essay was good and creative and was rewarded with a waitlist!.

My job over the next year will be to manage their expectations. It is difficult because their older siblings were fortunate in the college process. Pre2020 the class of 2023 kids would have had a choice of a few T30 schools as they have all of the grades, and ECs but that will not happen if next year is anything like this year IN MY AREA, other areas especially those not in the Northeast/Midatlantic should be fine. I am sure if my kids applied to Harvey Mudd, Rice, or Pritzker they would have a better shot than they do at Williams or Tufts Engineering since we are on the East Coast but I do not want my kids in California as I have learned from watching my older kids in college that it is important (for me) to have them driving distance. I do not want to be the parent at this time next year talking about what my kid gave up and then it still was not enough. I know more than one kid who has been depressed since April 1 or is considering a gap year.

@CCName1 I have no idea who the counselor is so I cannot comment. I would hope they know their business well enough to manage expectations from the outset and have a sense of who belongs where. I have listened to some of the free spiels over the years and for the most part they are trying to get the kid where the kid fits, not necessarily to Brown! if a kid with a 1300 and 3.0 who does not have a trust fund or anything unique walks into their office saying they want to go to Harvard, they will either explain why that is unrealistic or not take them on. It also depends on the region. I may have to rethink using someone which I was resistant to in the past for personal and financial reasons. I would be curious who the counselor is if you feel comfortable sharing the information or PMing.

I am told anecdotally in the top tier that there was an institutional emphasis on outreach, whether URM, first-generation, unique family situations, and so on, which is great but none of those apply to my kids which is why I am managing expectations. If you have geographic diversity and are not from outside NYC, NJ, Philly, Boston and so on then probably your school did better. I have personal friends at the Philly/NJ and so on schools who did not or at least these particular children did not. The worst part is that even assuming these particular kids submitted substandard applications beyond scores (bad essays, ecs), one question I have asked all the moms is, among non diverse/non athlete/non legacy/neurotypical applicants, has anyone their kids are friends with who scored over a 1500/34 gotten into their dream school? The answer is no! One kid did get into Yale but he played with the philharmonic (my kids can barely play air guitar video game!) I I would imagine plenty of school administrators are not happy or at least hearing from unhappy parents. Whether they make it known to the colleges and whether the colleges care, is beyond my pay grade

I think that cannot be determined until the freshman class arrives. The students who visit are not representative of the class as a whole, it is less likely to include those who live further away or have limited resources

Again, if you are in a district that is not on a coast, that is traditionally underserved by elite schools, the outcomes this year for top kids was probably good


I am in NJ. Private. ORM. No hooks. But you may be right about the very top of the range. You always need to be more creative at a T5 or a T10. In some ways T5s are easier than T10s because they don’t indulge in yield protection. They are clean. If you are “strong enough”, you can tell up front that you will get in with >50% chance.