College acceptance rates hit all-time lows

Admissions sign at Dartmouth College – Matthew Schwartz ’21

The time between the end of the Fifth Form to the first half of Sixth Form is one of the most stressful periods for a Haverford student. As the school prepares to bid farewell to the graduating class, college counselors shift their focus to the rising Sixth Formers, who will soon find their inbox bombarded with invitations to seminars, workshops, college fairs, and private meetings. Much effort and dedication are required in the college admissions process—taking standardized tests, asking teachers for recommendation letters, creating a college list, and writing essays. It will no doubt be at the forefront of most Fifth Formers’ minds as they prepare to begin the month-long process as the year winds down.

     “I am a little apprehensive about the college application process,” Fifth Former Patrick Corcoran said. “It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of choices, and for someone like me who hasn’t really given it any previous thought, it can be easy to drown in your own options.”

     The Class of 2021 faced—you guessed it—unprecedented circumstances in their admissions process. With the pandemic putting standardized testing in jeopardy, many colleges—including every single Ivy League school—made submitting SAT or ACT scores optional. The result was a surge in applications for prestigious colleges; the University of Pennsylvania had its largest application pool in history: 56,333 applicants. 

     “What you had were applicants thinking, ‘Hey, what’s there to lose? I have a strong transcript, and I don’t even need a test score,’”  Senior Associate Director of College Counseling Ms. Karen Ley said. “They weren’t just applying to one or two of these schools, they were applying to a lot more.”

     Yet, top colleges remained as selective as ever

     The combination of increased applications and stubborn selectivity in top colleges resulted in record-low acceptance rates. Penn accepted 5.7% of its applicants (3202), compared to last year’s 8% (3404). Though most colleges are continuing their test-optional policy, it remains tough to predict if admission pools will be as large as they were this year. As colleges have yet to release detailed breakdowns of their 2021 admissions, it remains tough to predict the Class of 2022’s chances at these elusive schools.  The College Counselling Office hopes to obtain relevant data from this year’s admissions so they can paint a picture of what admissions will look like for next year’s Sixth Formers. 

     “Most schools are still figuring out their admitted class, and they should have data on how many were test-optional,” Ms. Ley said. “If we get numbers like the percentage of test-optional kids accepted vs. kids who submitted testing, we can tell kids ‘Hey, X percent of test-optional applicants were accepted to this school.’”

“Listen to your college counselors, look at data from last year, and try to be a more informed applicant.”

Senior Associate Director of College Counseling Ms. Karen Ley

     Still, it is important to keep in mind that your standardized testing score is not the end for all of the application process. It is just as, if not even more important, to have the transcript and recommendation letters to back up your SAT/ACT scores—if you choose to submit them, of course. 

     “Listen to your college counselors, look at data from last year, and try to be a more informed applicant,” Ms. Ley said. 

     Finally, rising Sixth Formers should not stress about the recent acceptance rates of selective colleges, nor should they trick themselves into thinking that good education is only found in colleges with acceptance rates in the single digits. 

     “The admit rate is the most overused and misunderstood metric in college applications,” Ms. Ley said. “It doesn’t speak for the quality or the value of the education you can get at any institution. There are plenty of other factors that determine a college’s selectivity.”