During the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, the rise of test-optional policies in response to the global pandemic resulted in a surge of applications to top schools. As applications to top colleges skyrocketed, acceptance rates dipped. Colgate University made headlines when it announced an impressive 102 percent increase in applications for 2020-2021. This huge jump occurred after the university went test-optional and announced the Colgate Commitment to making attending more affordable by offering grant-in-aid instead of loans for families making up to $150,000 a year and free tuition free for those making under $80,000 a year.
How will the 2021-2022 college admissions season compare to last year’s hyper-competitive season? Will applications continue to surge, making 2022 the most competitive year for college admissions yet? It’s too early to know exactly what college applications and admissions will look like this year. But as more and more schools release their early admissions decisions and statistics, signs indicate that this years’ applications numbers will rival or surpass last year's record-breaking surge.
If test-optional policies are behind the surge, it seems likely. Seventy-five percent of the 4-year colleges in the United States are now test-optional or test blind, up from 72 percent last year. It’s too early to know exactly what admissions will look like this year. But as colleges released their early admissions decisions and statistics, signs indicate that this years’ admissions cycle may be the most competitive one yet.
According to data collected by the Common App, the total number of Common applications submitted by November 13th, 2021 was already up 20 percent from the same time period last year. Many schools are also reporting record numbers of early applicants. Florida State University received more applications by their priority deadline of November 1st, 2021 than the year before, outpacing what was already a record-setting year. Applications were up about 50 percent across Florida schools. This big jump may reflect the new Grandparent Waiver, which allows the university to grant tuition waivers to 31 out-of-state students whose grandparents reside in Florida. The waivers will be granted based on when applications are completed, which means many early applicants may be hoping to be one of the lucky 31 students who gets to spend four years in the son with grandma or grandpa nearby. (Students must attend full-time and have at least a 1330 on the SAT or a 29 on the ACT to be eligible)
The University of Virginia reported that early applications were up 17 percent for early decision and 7 percent for early action this year. This is the second year in a row UVA has received record-setting numbers of applicants. According to the unofficial numbers released on Dean J’s popular admissions blog, the university extended offers to 1,109 of the 3,466 student who submitted early applications.
According to sources in the CC Community, Boston College received 2,940 Early Decision I applications this year, a 50 percent increase over last year. The University plans to admit around 800 students early, about the same amount they admitted, which means their EDI acceptance rate dipped from 40 percent in Fall 2020 to 27 percent in Fall 2021.
University of Wisconsin has not shared any specific application numbers, but the admissions department did release a statement saying, “Due to a substantial increase in applications, we will be releasing Early Action decisions in late January – on or before our promised date of January 31, 2022.”
The University of Georgia saw a 3 percent increase in early action applicants this year, but they also accepted more students than the previous year, because they are expecting a lower yield rate and offering 200 additional spots in the Class of 2026.
Macalester College in Minnesota, saw a 15 percent increase in early applicants, from 200 applicants in 2020 to 230 in 2021.
Not all highly-selective colleges experienced a surge in applications though. Georgetown received about the same number of applications as last year. Despite raising the cutoff for their no loan policy from $120,000 to $150,000, Dartmouth received roughly the same number of applications as last year. The college received 29 percent more applications this year and last year than in 2019. Over the past ten years, Dartmouth has seen a 67 percent increase in early applicants alone, perhaps because of efforts to provide more financial support to students. The scholarship money amount offered to accepted early applicants for Fall 2022 was higher than ever before; the average scholarship awarded was $62,896.
Yale actually saw a dip in early applications this Fall; they received 7,939 early applications, eight percent fewer than last Fall. However, this year's number is still a 27 percent increase from early applications received in 2019. Offers were extended to 10.9 percent of applicants (or 800 students), just slightly more than the 10.5 percent who received offers early last year. For the past two years, Yale has received more applications than ever before from first-generation, underrepresented, and international students. Harvard accepted slightly more early applicants this into the Class of 2026; 7.9 percent of the 9, 406 applicants were offered admission, compared with 7.4 percent of applicants last Fall. But for the second year in a row, Harvard accepted significantly fewer students than were accepted early before the onset of the pandemic. In the Fall of 2019, the last early application before the pandemic, Harvard accepted 895 of the 6, 424 applicants, which is an early acceptance rate of 13.9 percent.
Rice University hasn't release application numbers for Fall 2021 at the time this article was written, but they admitted 6 percent more early applicants this fall, which suggests that they did not see a large increase in applications.
Many colleges are pleased with the increase in applications they have seen, which raises the question of whether those who planned to be temporarily test-optional will make the change permanent. Harvard has announced that they will stay test optional for at least the next four admissions cycles, up through the Class of 2031. More applications mean more work for the admissions committee, but it also means more money for schools. The average price of an application hovers around $50, so an extra 1000 applicants can mean an additional $50,000 for a school. At a few top schools, application fees can be as high as $85 or more, which means increasing applications means even more revenue. However, the new applicants may include more students who qualify for application fee waivers. Yale reports that they have received more applications from first-generation, underrepresented, and international students over the past two years than ever before. This increase may be a sign that test-optional policies and generous financial aid packages have made applying early to top schools more accessible for first-generation and underrepresented students, groups that have traditionally been less like both to apply early and to apply to the most selective schools.
Updated with Harvard data on December 16th, 2021, at 7:45 EST
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