In the Trenches: The College Admissions Year So Far

If you have been reading our Education Station Resource Guides and Blogs this year, you will know that college admissions has not returned to pre-pandemic policies and what we would describe as “normal.” All predictions based on past admission statistics and algorithms are off the table. Below is a  re-cap and some updates about the current situation.

  • Most institutions remain test optional or test blind and most will remain so for at least the next admission cycle of 2022-2023. Check the website for each college to see the most current testing policy.
    • Keep in mind that well-resourced students who have been able to access test centers and test preparation do not generally benefit from not submitting.
  • Without testing, the high school transcript becomes more important.
  • Because COVID limited participation in sports, school activities, internships, etc. for much of the past 2 years, students should think outside the box when creating their resumes.
    • With more free time due to remote learning, how did you spend that time?
    • Non-contact volunteer work (food collection, coat drive, created an app to help people find vaccine centers/testing centers)
    • Assumed family duties such as caring for younger children, house work
    • Taught yourself something new – playing an instrument, knitting
    • Have you kept a journal throughout the pandemic?
    • Have you embarked on a fitness routine?
  • Students continue to submit more applications because they have been unable to visit campuses to help narrow their lists and because of the unpredictability of outcomes.
  • Applications continue to increase at top tier colleges and universities.
  • Top tier colleges deferred more students who applied EA  because they are unable to predict outcomes based on old indicators such as campus visits, interviews, etc. to determine level of interest and probable enrollment.
  • Athletic recruitment has been impacted by COVID due to the addition of a fifth year of NCAA eligibility if a student-athlete was enrolled and on a roster for the 2020-2021 season.
  • An increasing number of colleges are committed to keeping students on campus for in-person learning as percentages of those vaccinated are near 100% at many institutions.


For well-resourced students, COVID will not likely make admission to many colleges easier. On the other hand, students with strong transcripts and solid test scores who can show they were able to remain productive and think creatively to fill their time during remote learning and who are now bouncing back strongly during COVID – and not making excuses – can present compelling and competitive applications. It is also a good time to think about colleges that might not have been on your radar but nonetheless may be wonderful matches for you. We can help you with that!

Testing Policies:

  • Harvard will remain test optional until 2026 and then re-evaluate.
  • U of California will not consider test results at this time. “now and into the future”.
  • In Colorado, all the state’s public colleges and universities will be test-optional in admissions. 
  • In Illinois, Governor J. B. Pritzker, a Democrat, signed legislation to require all public colleges and universities in the state to offer test-optional admissions.
  • In Montana, the board of the Montana University System voted to make SAT and ACT scores optional, permanently—exception: ACT scores will be required for honors scholarships.
  • In Washington State, all the public four-year colleges decided to move to test optional.
  • California may be the ultimate prize for the test-optional movement. The University of California system agreed to make all campuses test-blind (meaning SAT and ACT scores will not be looked at in making admissions decisions).
  • The California State University system (the largest four-year system in the country), expects to eliminate a testing requirement, and the Board is expected to vote on a recommendation to do so in March.
  • The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) said that nearly 80 percent of four-year colleges will not require the SAT or ACT for admissions this year. (That includes colleges that have simply extended test-optional for another year, as well as those that have made permanent decisions.)
  • The Iowa Board of Regents this month voted to be test-optional, permanently. That means Iowa State University, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa will no longer require the SAT or ACT for admissions.
  • The College Board has announced implementation of digital testing to begin internationally in 2023 and in the United States in 2024.Testing will take place only in a school setting.

Admissions Updates:

  • Increase of applications – students are applying up to 30+ schools because of test-optional and no-test and they are taking their chances.
  • Statistics from last year show that students who benefited the most from the test option or no test were the students who were most affected by COVID (first gen, income students who were not able to access testing and/or were not in school so they did not have access to good college counseling). For more information about test-optional vs test-blind see our blog post.
  • Prompted students to apply to many more colleges (Harvard saw huge increase in applications because they had great GPAs but low test scores -it really did not help kids who have access to testing resources). 
  • This year EA and ED were down in some places although regular decision applications are coming in strong 
  • More colleges are inviting families back on campus to tour. Groups are small and reservations (online on college websites) are necessary and limited. 
  • Interviews on campus by admissions officers are becoming more rare, although some colleges have returned to in-person campus interviews by current students and local interviews by alumni. Virtual interviews are becoming more of the norm. 
  • As more high schools have brought back extracurricular activities and athletics, colleges are eager to see how applicants have handled the re-entry process to a more normal high school experience.

Early Action Stats 2021-2022

  • Most selective schools saw a slight dip in early applications from the extreme highs of last year, but the numbers overall were still very high and competitive. Brown was one of the few schools that saw another significant rise in early applications—an 11% increase this year over a 22% rise last year. Notably, Notre Dame saw a 25% increase in early applications from last year, and Emory had a 13% jump in EDI applications.
  • In conjunction with relatively flat or slightly decreased early application numbers, acceptance rates rose slightly or remained consistent with last year.
  • According to their admissions website, “Despite no binding agreement, Restrictive Early Action admitted students at Notre Dame historically enroll at close to a 70% rate.”

Deferral Stats 2021-2022

  • Deferral rates are not as widely published as acceptance rates. However, available information shows that many schools defer more than half of their early applicant pool to the regular admissions round.
    • Notable exceptions include Duke, Middlebury, Northwestern, Notre Dame, and Stanford, who deny most applicants who are not accepted in the early round. For these schools, deferral is used to indicate that your application is competitive and will be given serious consideration in the regular admissions process.
  • Some schools, like the University of Michigan, use large numbers of deferrals to control class size as they have continued to receive increasingly large early applicant pools. Some colleges defer especially strong candidates who may view the college as a “safe” school, wait to see if the student withdraws the application based on early acceptance by more selective colleges, and then may accept the student late-January through March.

Increased Diversity Continues to be a Priority

  • Many of the most selective colleges continue to use early admissions for the big “hooks”:  under-represented minorities, lower socioeconomic, first-generation, and international students, as well as recruited athletes, and legacies. Schools with a high percentage of applicants who self-identify as students of color include Brown (51%), Dartmouth (40%), Georgetown (45%),  Harvard (54%), Notre Dame (40%), U Penn (52%), and Tulane (46%).
  • Legacy is another major factor, and schools accepting large numbers of early applicants with a family history of attending the school include Dartmouth (13%) and Penn. This year, Penn did not release the number of accepted ED legacies, but last year it was 22% of the ED admit pool. In the Ivy League, Penn typically has the highest rate of legacy acceptances. As of this writing, a number of colleges are questioning legacy admissions and in the process of abandoning this practice. 
  • International early admits continue to grow or remain steady, despite pandemic restrictions on in-person learning. Universities with high international early acceptances include Dartmouth (14%), Harvard (12.6%), Notre Dame (12%), Penn (12%), Rice (15%), and UVA (11.5%)

Resource guide made by Cindy Pendergast