The 2022 admission season: what juniors might learn from it

The 2022 admission season: what juniors might learn from it

With colleges having announced their 2022 admission decisions, I yet again feel like a recording stuck in a loop as I reiterate to my students that admission at the more selective colleges has become even more challenging. Even so, this year does feel different to me somehow. Perhaps it is the fact that I have seen more amazingly accomplished students who did not get into their dream schools – or indeed even into the ones they deemed target schools – than ever before, that makes the college admission process feel increasingly untenable.

While we wait for waitlists to settle down in coming months, though, a few themes have emerged.

  • The University of California’s decisions have left counselors scratching their heads as top academic in-state performers found themselves denied or waitlisted by virtually every UC campus. An article in SF Gate that tracked the UC admit rates over the last 25 years, points out that in 1997 UCLA admitted 36%, UCB 31%, and UCSB, UCI and UCD all around 70%. Today those same schools range from 14% at UCLA and 17% at Berkeley, to 30% at UCI, 37% at UCSB and 46% at UCD. In all cases, Colleges of Engineering admit rates are far below that of each University as a whole.
  • Knowing that, in a test-optional world, more kids feel free to apply to more selective colleges, schools are trying to figure what all the uncertainty and turmoil means for their yield, the number of students who will accept their offers. No one wants unfilled dorm beds or overfull classrooms. To help manage that uncertainty, many colleges are filling even a bigger portion of their first-year class with committed Early Decision applicants. The list of colleges that accept more than 50% of their incoming class in Early Decision – Bates, Bowdoin, Claremont, Colby, Haverford, NYU, Northwestern, and many others – is growing. Colleges also waitlist large numbers of applicants, and this year many seniors have found themselves waitlisted even at colleges where they had applied to an early program months earlier.
  • Applicants to certain majors seem to have done especially poorly this year, especially in Computer Science, Data Science, Engineering, business and even some life sciences. Presumably this reflects both the huge numbers of applicants attracted to (or pushed towards) fields that seem to promise steady jobs and financial success, as well as the struggles of colleges to meet that surging demand with adequate research and faculty resources (in the five years after 2013/14, for example, the number of CS degrees conferred nationally increased by 60%).

What lessons might current juniors take from all of this?

  • Take a healthy reality check from the admit rates. Remember that colleges with single digit admit rates have applicant pools full of strong and accomplished students (far more than they can admit) and the fact that you are one of them means you will be seriously considered. But at the end of the day those schools will admit students based on their limited space and institutional needs. Your college list must reflect the possibility that it might not be you.
  • Build your college list on a thoughtful foundation of probable and possible colleges, knowing that a so-called safety is not simply a school to which you will likely be admitted but also one where you will still thrive. The litmus test of admission – if this is the only school to which you were admitted, will you attend – is more important than ever, and many high-performing students found themselves confronted with exactly that outcome.
  • Think of your college list less as a series of set categories – probable/safety, possible/target, reach/ultra-reach – than as a dynamic process in which probability shifts according to application timing. Is a college still a target if you apply in Regular Decision, or does it fill so much of its class in Early that the admit rate is halved or even quartered for students applying in Regular Decision?
  • Consider your academic narrative in which you explain what you want to study and why you want to do it at any specific college. Most colleges don’t assume you are fixing your major in place when you apply (there are a few exceptions) so discussing your intended major is mostly just an opportunity to show the college the critical depth and analytical skill you have to offer. BUT if the major on your application is in a field that seems overcrowded with applicants, or if it is clear from your limited curiosity that your intended field of study is simply a pathway to a steady job and good paycheck, it makes it harder for admission officers to appreciate what you have to offer academically. (See the recent guest posting on our blog about thinking beyond computer science as a major.)
  • And finally, parents come to college admission with assumptions about the process derived from their own experiences and fueled with intense admiration for their children’s hard work and exceptional performances. But it is a different world from the one in which they applied to colleges and it requires new expectations. Thus, in 1990:
    • Boston University had 12,400 applicants and admitted 45%. This year it received 80,800 applicants and admitted 14%.
    • Northeastern University admitted 97% of its 10,600 applicants. This year, it received 91,000 applicants and admitted 7%.
    • Stanford had just under 13,000 applicants and admitted about 22%; last year it received 55,470 applicants and admitted just under 4%.
    • Columbia had under 6,000 applicants and admitted 32%; this year the school had over 60,000 applicants and admitted 4%.
    • Cornell had about 20,000 applications and admitted about 30%; last year, over 67,000 applied and only 9% made the mark (Cornell is unfortunately one of the colleges that decided this year not to reveal its admission statistics).
    • USC admitted a whopping 70% of about 10,000 applicants, bemoaning its declining enrollment; this year, it admitted 12% of the approximately 70,000 applicants.

For many seniors these days, the stress of college admissions feels less like the churning anticipation of preparing for a grand journey, and more like an anxious grind towards misplaced expectations in which much feels beyond one’s control. Perhaps it is only when they accept that their prosperity in life will depend far less on where they choose to attend than on the choices they make once they are on campus, that they will be able to reclaim the adventure.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

A career in software computing? Consider a major other than CS

A career in software computing? Consider a major other than CS

Guest Blogger, Sam Fisher

Applying to college seems to get harder every year, and the only thing even tougher is applying to college as a prospective computer science major. A New York Times article noted, for example, that in 2019 more than 3,300 incoming first-year students at UT Austin sought computer science as their first choice of major, which was more than double the number who did so five years earlier. The same year, and in response to a reality in which some 20% of Stanford undergraduate degrees are conferred in CS, The Stanford Daily published an article on “CS in Crisis.”

No wonder many prospective first years are fearful about their chances of admission to a top CS program! But it’s not all bad news. As someone who’s done this myself and knows many others like me, I am here to tell you that majoring in computer science is not the only way to get into software engineering (or other top jobs in tech). And, in my opinion, it’s not even the best way.

It may surprise you to hear that, to be a successful software engineer out of college, it likely only requires you to take around five computer science classes while in school. In those five or so classes (let’s say 2-3 core classes teaching you the fundamentals of coding and 2-3 electives in an area you find interesting), you can develop all of the fundamentals you need to kick off your career. Those classes are essential, so don’t skimp out on them, and furthermore, I recommend taking them as early in college as you can.

Once you get beyond those core classes that teach you the fundamentals of how to write code, most of your gains in developing your skills as a software engineer will come from side projects and on-the-job training. Side projects are easy to find. Work on them with your friends, if possible, and treat them like real-world projects. Even if it’s overkill for those projects, try to use Source Control like Github or Gitlab, and try deploying them to a cloud provider through a free trial or student credit programs. You’ll gain key knowledge in places where many computer science majors even fall short, and it’ll help you stand out in your internships and job interviews.

So what classes should you take, and what should you consider majoring in? The short answer: anything you find interesting. Have you always been interested in psychology? Maybe major in that. Or perhaps you love learning new languages and cultures, so you major in Spanish and study abroad in Latin America? Or maybe you’ve always been interested in sciences, and you’ll explore biology, chemistry, or environmental sciences in your first few years before deciding on a major.

And what would those majors do for you if you chose them? Beyond the core value of teaching you how to think and helping your mind grow, you might develop expertise that helps you in your first coding job, or whatever early career you choose.

Let’s say you chose that psychology major; it could make you much more attuned to user experience and how people learn, key skills in user-centered app development, product management, and product design. What if you chose the Spanish major? You could build out a start-up in one of the fastest-growing, low-cost coding hubs in the region like Bogota, and have a cultural leg-up in understanding their labor market and consumer preferences. Finally, if you majored in biology, you could have an enormous advantage applying to be an engineer in the biotech space, working for a company like 23andme or the next great startup.

The world is short on talented computer scientists right now, but even more so, it’s short on people with expertise and passion in their field with enough computer science knowledge to be effective. Those are the people who will be the biggest winners and make the most impact.

Sam Fisher is a senior product manager at Oracle Cloud and graduated from Stanford with a BS in Symbolic Systems in 2014 and an MBA in 2019.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

No, it’s not fair!

No, it’s not fair!

Every year commentators call on new superlatives to describe the plummeting admit rates at selective colleges. Beset by a growing sense of anxiety about their chances of admission to increasingly rejective colleges, students cast around for explanations in a process that feels increasingly out of their control. “It is not fair,” they say.

They are right, of course, if by fair one means a straightforward, linear application process that rewards clearly defined accomplishments and penalizes equally defined lapses. In fact, college admission has never been “fair” in that sense. After all, how is it fair when some students find that application process easier to navigate than other equally accomplished students, because they have well-educated parents familiar with it? Or when a wealthy family can trade influence and donations for a place at a very selective college? Or when some families can afford a great college education without breaking the bank, while many others, disproportionally students of color, will graduate with crushing debt, if at all?

Perhaps the reason why we want to cast the process within that fair/unfair binary is that it puts the focus on individual students and what they have done and achieved. That allows for a sense of control – if I know that doing X will achieve Y, it becomes within my reach. Doing so, though, misses a very important reality about college admission: it is not simply, or even mostly, about individual students. Rather, it is about the institutional needs of the college.

Listening to families talk, one might assume that an admission office IS the college. But, in reality, the former is simply one piece (albeit an important one!) within a larger institutional whole. As such, it is subject to myriad demands and needs from all corners of that bigger edifice. Does the college’s well-known touring orchestra need a new harpist? Has the anthropology department expanded and would therefore like to see a few more prospective anthropologists? Is the university keen to maintain its status as a liberal arts institution rather than a technical school? Can the institution compete with private industry, and its much higher wages, for enough accomplished computer scientists and biochemists to teach the vast army of STEM applicants? Does the public institution need to accept more out-of-state students because its own state government fails to adequately fund it?

Colleges will address these challenges in many ways. But undergraduate admission is one very significant tool with which to do so. Does this make its admission policies and decisions unfair? It will surely feel so to very diligent high school students who did whatever was asked of them to become a strong candidate and still find themselves turned away by very selective institutions. Their disenchantment is fed by many admission offices that insist that their lack of transparency, even about basic information such as admit rates, is meant to benefit students. (With Penn, Cornell and Princeton joining Stanford in refusing to reveal their admit rates, a shout-out to those folks, like Andy Borst at Illinois and Rick Clark at Georgia Tech, who are working to help pull the curtain back and allow families to see them at work.)

At a moment when higher education is under attack from multiple directions in American society, blunt honesty might be the best marketing strategy of all! Meanwhile, students might want to ponder the fact that when admission officers talk about “holistic” – that magic fig leave of admission speak – the whole in question refers as much to the institution of which an admission office is merely one cog as it does individual students and their contributions.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Waiting on the Waitlist

Waiting on the Waitlist

With college admission decisions made and released, the attention of students and admission officers turns to the tricky challenge of the waitlist. And rarely has the process seemed more chaotic than this year, in which many selective colleges faced higher application numbers, lower admit rates, and greater uncertainty about their yield.

There are many reasons why colleges run waitlists. A waitlist decision acknowledges the good work of strong applicants for whom there wasn’t space in the class. It also helps placate alumni, donors, and faculty whose children were not admitted.

Above all, a waitlist helps a college manage its enrolment numbers. Colleges cannot afford to have empty seats in their first-year class because too many admitted students opted for another offer. But nor do they want double dorm rooms turned into triples because more students than expected accepted their offer. So, they take their best-informed shot – and it is a remarkably good one! – at estimating how many students to admit in excess of the actual number they want in their class.

Even as they decide whom to admit and to deny, though, admission offices also build additional flex into the system by waitlisting many strong applicants. They can, then, in the months after admission decisions are released, continue to add more students to the class if the yield is lower than anticipated. This buffer is especially important in a year such as 2022, when the usual calculations about yield have been blown up by the uncertainty sparked by test-optional admission. By using a waitlist to protect yield, colleges can also pick the candidates that will help them fill gaps in their list of institutional needs – more women mathematicians, oboists, chemical engineers, underrepresented students, first-generation applicants, and so on.

Being waitlisted leaves students in a tough spot. They are happy to remain on the admission radar, but also realize that coming off the waitlist can be a very long shot. In 2020, for example, Chapman in Southern California admitted well over half the students they waitlisted. More typical, however, is the experience at CalTech, which admitted only 10 of the over 300 kids to whom they made a waitlist offer. Or Michigan, which admitted 1,248 students after waitlisting 20,723.

Faced with such odds, what is a waitlisted student to do? The short answer is to continue pursuing the college while also committing to another:

  • Make sure you know the deadline for committing to the waitlist, and don’t miss it.
  • Note all instructions in the waitlist letter. Does the college encourage you to write an email, submit a note to the admission portal, or tell you unambiguously that they don’t want to hear from you?
  • If there are no instructions or if you are encouraged to submit a note, address and email it to the regional admission officer if you know who that is. The more personal your letter, the better! If you don’t have a name, address and email the letter to the Dean of Admission or, as a last resort, to Dear Admission Office at the general undergraduate admission address.
  • Be respectful of admission officers’ time constraints and keep the note reasonably short and concise.
  • On your way to stating your continued interest, it is okay to express some disappointment, but not frustration or resentment. Better to keep the tone clear, good-humored and optimistic. Being either obsequious or demanding will only alienate the reader.
  • Add reference to whatever drew you to the college in the first place – perhaps a particular major, research opportunity or such – to help remind the reader of your thoughtfulness in choosing that school and explain your continued interest.
  • If there are any updates to add – an award, an important project completed, or something of which you are particularly proud – tell the reader about it.
  • Normally colleges are reluctant to waitlist students who were already deferred from early admission. But, this year, many students find themselves in that position; if this is true for you, feel free to remind the college that your interest has not waned since you first applied.
  • Don’t refer to the decisions of other colleges, however. It will play no role in a college’s decision.

Colleges will make waitlist decisions based on their own needs and will likely do so in waves rather than at one set moment. Therefore, the coming months will require resilience and optimism on your part, but also common sense and honesty. You need to visit colleges that have already made you an offer, accept one of those offers (from which you can withdraw if you come off a waitlist), and along the way allow yourself the excitement and joy of this moment. Whatever experience you seek at college, achieving it will depend on the choices you make once on campus, regardless of where that is.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Empathy: Considering another’s perspective in a college application

Empathy: Considering another’s perspective in a college application

In preparing their applications to college, high school students are encouraged to be authentic, engaged, passionate, and committed. These are indeed great aspirations, and, hopefully, kids get the message that being true and honest with themselves and putting together a good college application should not be at odds with each other.

One quality usually missing from this list of exhortations, though, might be the most important one: be empathetic. Empathy is a powerful idea whose definition often depends on context. For some, empathy is the same as sympathy, the state of caring for others and “feeling their pain.” It is an emotional response to a shared humanity. “I work in a food pantry for the poor because I feel bad for those who feel hunger; I teach kids how to play basketball because I know how much joy I get from it.” We believe such compassion to be a powerful part of children’s sociality and work to cultivate it. And when colleges ask applicants to write about how they help make the world a better place, it is this kind of empathy that students lay claim to and that admission officers wade through.

In urging students to feel sympathy for those with less privilege than they have, though, we might want to encourage them to do more than feel another’s pain. We also want to suggest a shift in perspective in which they go beyond describing their response towards imagining and interrogating how the other side in this equation feels. Social psychologists call this “perspective taking,” and define it as “the ability to understand how a situation appears to another person and how that person is reacting cognitively and emotionally to the situation.”

Why does this matter to how students present themselves in their college applications? In reading about or listening to how students describe their community service, I am always struck by how they see it as a one-way street: they feel bad for someone who might not have what they do and tell us what they have done to alleviate that need. They rarely seem to realize that there is also another side in this philanthropic equation. The result is variations on the so-called “poor but happy villagers” community service experience that has become so frustrating – and even toxic – to admission officers. They read countless essays about suburban kids teaching, contributing to, and “giving voice” to those who are less privileged. These essays are filled with good intentions but lack even a rudimentary understanding of the inequality and lack of reciprocity in such philanthropic exchanges: the less privileged are merely there to be acted on, to be helped and, hopefully, to be grateful for the assistance.

Don’t misunderstand me. I think such service work can be hugely enriching to a student and can reflect a well-honed sense of social obligation, which I applaud. But we might want to open a conversation with young adults – as parents and as counselors – about what and who is on the other side of that helping hand; to add to their emotional sympathy for the less privileged some of the awareness that comes from a more rational empathy.

Shifting perspective and seeing an exchange from the viewpoint of another, also offers students useful insights about other parts of the application process and, indeed, of life. When students present themselves in essays and interviews, it is often clear that they have not given much thought to who their audience is. It is a one-way conversation: they ascribe to themselves the qualities they feel colleges value (I am determined, helpful, diligent, resilient, keen to help others). It does not occur to them that what they’re trying to say may not be what the other side is hearing! They reference extensive foreign travel, for example, sure that the admission reader will appreciate their global citizenship, when, in fact, the reader hears a blithe catalog of great privilege. And when they describe tutoring an underprivileged fellow student, they rarely consider that admission officers might have been such low-income students themselves — and could find their tone patronizing.

As educational counselors we work in the hope that whatever kids learn from applying to college – about choices and consequences, about good writing – they will bring to bear on other parts of their young lives too. In this, there are few skills more valuable to them than moving from seeing the world strictly through their own eyes, to understanding that in their every interaction with another, there is another viewpoint present too.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The Advantages of Boarding School

The Advantages of Boarding School

Students who attend boarding school get to live, learn, and thrive with motivated peers from around the world, supported by compassionate and dedicated faculty who serve as teachers, coaches, and dorm parents. At boarding school, students wake up each morning in a community buzzing with energy and know they are part of something special and unique.


Life at boarding school is exciting and full of possibilities. Boarding school students report spending more time engaging with their communities and exploring their passions than students at private day schools and public schools[1]. Since students live and work alongside each other and the faculty every day, from the stage to the studio to the field, students have nearly endless options for immersing themselves in their interests and discovering new ones.

Along the way, students form meaningful relationships with caring educators who offer inspiration, guidance, and motivation. Coaches, teachers, and dorm parents are committed to creating supportive, nurturing environments where students feel inspired to grow as learners, members of the community, and leaders. In fact, 77% of boarding school students say that boarding school gives them the opportunity to lead[2].


Going to class at boarding school is inspiring. Not only do students learn from high-quality teachers, but students also report being surrounded by motivated peers, making the learning environment rich and rewarding. Students’ classmates are also their teammates, bandmates, and roommates — so the learning doesn’t stop at the classroom door. Exciting and engaging conversations happen in dorm common rooms, fueled by snacks made by dorm parents.

Students feel academically challenged at boarding school. Small class size and easy access to faculty outside of the academic day allow students individualized attention so that they can also feel supported on their rigorous academic journeys. Teachers meet with students one-on-one to review everything from math concepts to essay writing techniques. At boarding school, students are both challenged and supported and feel intellectually inspired and academically satisfied.


Ready to face the challenges of college and beyond, boarding school students are prepared to thrive in the world after high school. Living on campus, learning with motivated peers, and engaging in leadership opportunities are just a few of the ways that boarding school sets students up for success. A majority of boarding school students report feeling prepared to succeed in college.

When asked if they would go to boarding school all over again, 90% of graduates said yes! At boarding school, students develop self-motivation, independence, and the ability to think critically and creatively. These skills not only help with college readiness, but they also set the foundation for career success later in life. Boarding school — and all that it has to offer — is an experience that lasts for a lifetime.

[1] Begin the Adventure of Your Life, © Copyright 2009-2019 The Association of Boarding Schools

[2] Begin the Adventure of Your Life, © Copyright 2009-2019 The Association of Boarding Schools[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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