College Admission Rates Reach All-Time Low. Here’s Why and What To Do About It…

Updated: Aug 16, 2021

Amidst all of the turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic, some students and parents might have been startled by the news last week that acceptance rates at Ivy League schools have officially reached an all-time low. If you read our post on the impact of test-optional admission policies last year, you shouldn’t be too surprised by this development. Quite simply, the main reason for these startlingly low rates is the surge of applications that came with the relaxation of standardized testing requirements. With test optional policies, many students who might not have normally applied to these top universities because they were unable to achieve the stellar SAT/ACT (and sometimes SAT Subject Test) scores simply figured “Why not?” And honestly, who can blame them? As Wayne Gretzky famously said: “100% of the shots you don’t take won’t go in.”

However, what this has meant for colleges is that, when considering applications without test scores, they were working without their typical “weeding out” mechanism that previously allowed them to disregard a significant chunk of applications (and which discouraged many students from applying in the first place). Thus, many admissions offices have become inundated with applications and they simply could not accept the same percentage of them that they had before. Furthermore, with many students taking gap years during the pandemic or refusing to pay full tuition for online education, there were actually fewer slots available for new freshmen at most of these elite schools.

So are these low admissions rates here to stay? It’s certainly possible - colleges like Harvard and Yale might opt to retain their test optional policies indefinitely as these dwindling acceptance rates actually improve their position in various school ranking systems. On the other hand, many elite schools might decide that the hassle of considering so many applications each year is not worth the trouble and return to their old standardized testing requirements (albeit without any SAT Subject Tests). It’s worth noting that the last time there was a major movement against standardized testing in the 1960’s and early 1970’s that pretty much every school in the country returned to requiring these test scores as they felt that academic standards had dropped.

In either case, the best way to prepare yourself or your child to apply to an elite college has largely not changed over the course of the pandemic: maintain stellar grades with a difficult course load, be involved in meaningful extracurricular activities, get incredible teacher recommendations, write memorable college essays, and yes, aim to achieve a top score on the SAT or ACT and on any AP Exams you are able to take. Great test scores help you stand out from the pile more than ever before and demonstrate your intellectual capabilities.

The best defense is a good offense, as they say.