ic S/general/checkmark circled Thanks for subscribing! Be on the lookout for our next newsletter.
ic S/general/checkmark circled College is saved to My Colleges.
Articles / Preparing for College / COVID had a Big Impact on Early College Applications: What It Means for Next Year’s Application Season

Feb. 8, 2021

COVID had a Big Impact on Early College Applications: What It Means for Next Year’s Application Season

COVID had a Big Impact on Early College Applications: What It Means for Next Year’s Application Season
Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

Well, that was awful. 2020 decided to end on-theme with a huge increase in rejections for early applicants.

Here's the chain of events that led to this very 2020 result:

  1. The pandemic disrupted pretty much everything, so ...
  2. Over 1,500 top schools — including MIT, Stanford and the Ivys — suspended or made optional SAT and ACT tests for this cycle, which lowered barriers to entry so …
  3. Many more students decided to apply to those schools early, but …
  4. Perhaps because schools were uncertain what their regular decision pool would look like …
  5. They rejected or deferred a higher percentage of students than in past years.

To put the devastation in numbers, here's a chart we made presenting some of the early admissions data:


(This is just a small sampling of top-ranked colleges. Note that Princeton didn't have an early admission program this year, and that Stanford and Cornell don't report their numbers publicly.)

It's unclear whether admission rates overall will also be lower this year. Possibly, schools will expand their first-year classes to make up for smaller sophomore classes.

But either way, it's likely that the upcoming admission cycle (in Fall 2021) will look a lot like this one. That's because many schools, including the University of California system, have committed to remaining test-optional or test-blind moving forward.

What this means is that essays — or, more accurately, the potential for college success that essays demonstrate — will continue to have increasing importance for years to come.

If you'll be applying this Fall, this is in many ways a gift. It suggests you should intentionally devote yourself to fulfilling activities: self-improvement, community service, personal projects. Things that may not seem college-worthy — reading a book for fun, spending time helping your family — often end up leading to the self-learning that maps to the 5 traits colleges look for in essays.

On a more concrete note, the increased emphasis on essays makes it all the more important that you don't fall for harmful essay-writing myths, and keep them straight-forwardly focused on your proven potential for success.

Speaking of focusing on what matters, let’s talk about the bigger 2020 admissions story

The data we laid out above actually buries the lede concerning the pandemic's effect on college admissions. The biggest problem is that the number of high-school seniors who've submitted college financial aid applications is down sharply. Last year at this time, almost 30% of high school seniors filled out the FAFSA. This year, less than a quarter have, for about a 14% decline.

This means that the pandemic will almost certainly cause more low-income students, and particularly Black and Latinx students, to lose out on higher education than would have otherwise. The evidence includes the Common App's 8% decline in overall applicants, with a 16% dip in applicants requesting fee waivers.

COVID's economic hit has created a dire reality for so many students, who are now facing extreme stressors such as fear of being evicted, food insecurity, and lack of internet access that they need to keep up with school and applications. No surprise then that FAFSA completion is "just kind of falling down the list of priorities," in the words of the head of a nonprofit dedicated to getting more students to fill it out.

Decreased college attendance will exacerbate income inequality for years to come, and these students' lives may never fully recover. So, as a last action item, if there's anything you can do to support any of your peers to fill out the FAFSA and apply despite all the obstacles, be that person. Filling out a FAFSA is a cumbersome process, but the benefits last a lifetime.

Attribution: This article was provided by Prompt.com, the world leader in admissions essay coaching and feedback.

Written by

Brad Schiller

Brad Schiller

Essay Expert

A-Z College Forums

Browse the College Forums
C1E9D4E7-C4C9-4B28-8946-8F441A6D62B3

Find Your Best Fit

Find your best fit college and track your favorite colleges.