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]

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]

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