The college admissions process is not a straight line, and that statement had never been more true than it was for the Class of 2021. As my students head off to college, I am struck by how many twists and turns they have faced. This class learned to live with uncertainty in every sense of the word. As their college counselor, it is my job not to provide the answers but to teach them how to ask good questions. With each change that came with the college process, I watched them take some deep breaths and say, “OK. What’s next?”
Deciding Where to Apply- Without Visiting
Typically, students can visit a few colleges, decide what they like and don’t like, and move forward with creating their college list. Like many things in their lives, college visits moved online, changing how students and parents interact with colleges and universities. Students became more detailed and conscious of their questions, realizing that this was the only way for them to receive clarity on what they are looking for in their college experience.
When the Rules Change
As colleges and universities went test-optional, my students wondered what this really meant. While the lack of test requirements was a good thing, especially for those students who could not take the ACT or SAT, many students were unprepared for the additional focus it would bring to their transcripts. The question, “What’s next?” became “What else do I need to highlight in my applications?” Guiding them through the process of showing colleges how amazing they are showed students that they are much more than a test score or a GPA.
When decisions came out for early applications, and acceptance rates drop at a record pace, I saw students become more determined than ever. “What’s next?” became “Where else should I apply?” Making sure they had a backup plan to their backup plan gave them the courage to move forward and push through the uncertainty.
A Change in the Timeline
After delays in decision releases due to increased volume, final decisions came out, and the dust began to settle on waitlists. I saw students move forward with options, examining where they needed to be to become their best selves. With travel restrictions lifting, students and their families rushed out to visit colleges, many for the first time. They had less than a month to make their final college decisions.
A New Game
No one could have predicted the increase in applications institutions saw for the Class of 2021 (college class of 2025). As difficult as it was to advise students through this new admissions landscape, I am sure it was just as difficult for admissions officers to say no to so many qualified applicants. As a college counselor, I can’t help but wonder where do we go from here? Many highly selective universities are not “highly rejective” (credit to Akil Bello for that term). Harvard now admits 3% of applicants. Brown, Columbia, Princeton, and Yale are all in the club with acceptance rates of 5% or less.
What is more disturbing is the competitiveness of the “backup” options. Colleges and universities that used to admit over 20% served as solid options for students who entered the competitive landscape. Now those options are dwindling. Below are some notable changes in acceptance rates for the Class of 2021.
|College/University||Class of 2025 Accept Rate||Class of 2024 Accept Rate|
I will never forget the Class of 2021, not only because they did great things but also because they overcame great things. I know they will use the experience of applying to college during a pandemic to become great leaders and change-makers. I look forward to hearing about the adventures of my two future foreign diplomats and reading the words of my two lovely female writers who will use their voices to create social change. Someday, I will see the work of a very talented artist who will combine his creativity with his passion for advocacy (and many other things). I know there will be at least one doctor from this class, and she will make a difference in the lives of many children. There will be a lawyer who is branching out to explore his southern roots. I guarantee there will be one large animal veterinarian who will make a difference for horses, especially those who participate in dressage. A future environmental engineer in this group will do the essential work of addressing climate change. A promising prospective FBI agent will do everything she can to solve crimes. Most of my students had too many interests for me to predict who they will become. They will use college to explore their curiosities, and I know they will continue to ask the question, “What’s next?”.
The College Mindset Class of 2021 submitted 219 applications and received 155 acceptances. Collectively, they received close to $5 million in merit scholarships, including one student who received the Daniels Scholarship.
These colleges and universities are so lucky to have them:
Arizona State University
Colorado State University
George Washington University
Parsons, The New School
High Point University
Northwestern University (transfer student)
Stern College for Women
University of Arizona
University of Southern California
University of Colorado, Boulder
University of Northern Colorado
University of Oregon
University of Maryland
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
University of South Carolina
University of Tampa
I think we have all learned in the past year that life is not a straight line. I know I will recall the wisdom, grit, and tenacity of the Class of 2021 as I look forward and guide a new class through the ever-changing college admissions landscape. I know it is my turn to say, “What’s next?”