What takeaways from the 2022 college admissions cycle do you want to share with this year's applicants? Dozens of CC Community members responded to this question in a recent thread in the forums.
We've pulled some of the advice that came up again and again. Read on for trends, advice, and mistakes to avoid in 2023, from the people who have navigated college admissions before. Visit the full thread to chime in, or read more pearls of wisdom.
For the third year in a row, top colleges saw huge numbers of applicants, while some less-competitive schools saw a decline. Many students are applying to more colleges than in the past.
This has made it more difficult for colleges to predict how many admitted students will actually attend, or their yield. Some college rating systems actually take yield into account when ranking schools, so some schools may be hesitant to extend offers to students who they suspect may decline their offer, a practice sometimes referred to as "yield protection." It can be risky for colleges to overextend offers and get too many acceptances, which can leave colleges scrambling to create things like Freshman year study abroad opportunities.
One CC member noted that this has created a "vicious cycle," as more people scramble to apply early, and take a "shotgun approach" to the regular decision round.
The unpredictability of yield has led many colleges and universities to accept a larger percentage of their students early. According to CC member Novacat9191, “Brown, Penn, Amherst, Cornell, Swarthmore, Vandy, Bowdoin, Dartmouth, Northwestern, Rice all with between 43-63% of their class filled through ED!”
In other words, as one CC member put it for colleges who want to protect their yield, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
It used to be that Early Decision occurred gave you one shot to apply to your first-choice school and get in early. But things have changed and Early Decision 1 and 2 and Early Action means that some students will have more than one chance to apply early. Applying early is considered a strong sign of demonstrated interest, and many colleges are offering a larger percentage of their slots to early applicants who they feel confident will attend. Students are forbidden from applying to multiple schools Early Decision or Restrictive Early Action.
One piece of advice that came up time and time again was to have a strategy for early admissions, and to apply early to as many schools as you ethically can. This might mean applying Early Decision I to your top choice. Then, if you don’t get in, apply Early Decision 2 or Early Action to other schools on your list. CC member ThorsMom66 encourages students to “apply EA to any schools on your list that offer it.”
MomofBoiler agrees that many top schools prefer early applicants. "We toured in '17 and they point blank said you need to apply ED to have any real shot."
In the past many students used Early Decision to help their chances of getting into a reach school. But admissions is so competitive now that that can be throwing away a ticket into a more fitting school. Dadto2NY says, “Don’t even be afraid to use ED at a straight-match, if it’s truly your number one choice and you can afford it.”
CateCAParent agreed. “Ditch restrictive EA/ED at highly-rejective schools unless you have a hook. Instead, apply EA to schools you would be happy to attend, offer merit, and you have a good shot at getting in”
It used to be common for students to apply to a couple of “reach” schools, a few “match” schools that admitted students with similar profiles, and one “safety” school that was almost guaranteed to admit them. Now, students are choosing to apply to more than one safety school, since the influx of applications has made it more difficult to guess which schools might admit them.
Safety schools don’t have to be just about admissions odds. Consider financial safeties, or schools you think you could afford even if your finances change or your financial aid packages aren’t what you hoped for.
South Yankie recommends, “Apply to a couple of in-state publics even if you want to go out of state. Better chances of getting in and usually cheaper. Also finances, health (as it did for me), etc can change a lot and you should keep options open.”
Another piece of wise advice from a community member–make sure your safeties are actually safeties. Prezbucky advised, “For true safeties, consider auto-admission schools, if you have the stats.” Many well-regarded schools, like Tulane, have policies where they will guarantee admission to students who meet certain criteria.
Some schools that may have been considered fairly easy to get into years ago are very competitive now, so make sure you’re considering current admissions stats and not just reputation. If you're looking at applying to a state school as an out-of-state student, make sure to look at the out-of-state acceptance rates. Most state schools are much more competitive for out-of-state students.
On the flip side, Ucbalumnus shared, “The trend over the years is that the more selective / prestigious group of universities has been getting more selective (and therefore less predictable as their applicant pools become more stats-compressed at the top of the scale) due to increased interest in them. Meanwhile, other colleges (e.g. non flagship-level state universities and private schools of similar selectivity) are often finding declining interest.” Many high-quality schools are clamoring for students who have great credentials, but didn’t quite make it into the top fifty schools. Even students with highly impressive applications should be sure to apply to at least a few of these schools.
And remember, safety schools are not just schools that you can get into; they should also be schools that you’d be satisfied with attending. One community member reminded parents, “A safety isn’t a safety if your kid has a meltdown that it’s the only option.”
Many people noted the importance of researching and touring colleges, especially the ones you're most likely to get into.
CC member CaliMex recommended that students “Spend the bulk of your time researching, visiting and falling in love with schools with a 40 percent or higher acceptance rate. High achievers assume “safeties/likelies” will clamor to admit them based on their stats and are shocked when they are rejected. Had they spent more time researching, visiting, and getting to know those colleges, their knowledge and love for the school would have shone through and they might have been admitted.”
Hebegebe amended that statement, saying that since different students are competitive at different schools, applicants should "spend the bulk of your time researching, visiting, and falling in love with schools that have a 40% or higher acceptance rate for candidates like you."
Pathnottaken took a slightly different approach, but offered similar advice. “Spend 90 percent of your college search and application time researching and visiting the schools you have a 50 to 90 percent chance of getting into. Spend 10 percent of your time on the applications for those colleges that are reaches for everyone or have the perceived prestige you can’t seem to get over.
JackH2021 encourages students to dig into the most important statistics like “graduation rates, freshman return rates, salaries and grad school placement…Drill down into the Common Data set for each school you are considering.”
When researching colleges, one CC member reminded students not to forget about Canadian schools. Many of these schools offer a high-quality education at a fraction of the price of a private college in the U.S.
Another CC member urged students to research the mental health services a school offers before applying. “You don’t know what you will need until you do,” Pathnottaken cautioned.
Most people agree that it’s a good idea to visit your top choice schools, but CC members had different opinions about when to visit. Visiting a school is one way to demonstrate interest, which is increasingly important as schools strive to find ways to protect their yield. However, a few people recommended visiting more local options. If you’re applying binding Early Decision, it’s a good idea to visit that school as well, since you’re committed to attending, if admitted. For all other school, many people suggested using the virtual tour resources available on most school websites (and on CC School profiles) to visit schools that would be more time-consuming and costly to visit in person. You can always visit the colleges you’re considering after you’re admitted, if you’re having trouble deciding.
Other members suggest visiting as many schools as you can before you apply. Dadto2NY says, “If at all possible, visit every school to which you plan to apply. Your “dream school” based on rankings, reviews, pop culture, etc., may turn you off when you see the campus. Likewise, you may fall in love with a school that was initially low on your list after visiting (this happened to my son). Better yet, try to attend a summer program at your top choice before applying.”
A few CC members cautioned people to be careful with technologies like Naviance. One reported that Naviance had sent a letter of recommendation intended for one specific school to multiple schools. Another said that it’s very hard to undo things in Naviance, and warned students to be very careful about what actions they took.
Another member advised people to double-check information coming from school counselors. “Guidance counselors are likely overburdened, so verify anything they say. For example, ours told us that our kid was out of luck after missing the PSAT during Covid. But I kept digging and found out about the Alternate Entry pathway using an SAT score instead.
(Shameless plug: the CC Forums are a great place to seek a free second opinion and insider information.)
How to know which schools you can afford before you see your financial aid package? Many people shared advice on how to determine which schools are most likely to meet your need. Achievement isn't always the best way to determine if you'll qualify for scholarship money. One CC member Fiftyfifty1 says, “A lot of schools that used to give big merit just a few years ago are now shifting their money to need-based aid.”
CascadiaParent reminds applicants to look at the type of aid schools offer when choosing where to apply. “If money is an issue, be sure to understand which schools offer merit and which schools offer need-based aid only. Then, distinguish between need-blind schools for admissions and schools that aren’t need-blind. It affects your chances. Schools that are need-blind and promise to meet 100% of demonstrated need are the sweet spot - but these schools tends to be highly exclusive (like Williams, Bowdoin, Amherst, and Ivies). But you shouldn’t not apply to these schools because of their price tags. If you can get in, they will meet 100% of your need. Most schools can’t claim that.”
Alqbamine32 encouraged parents to use the resources available through schools’ financial aid offices. “If your kid is applying to a “meets need” school, but you are worried that the net price calculator may be inaccurate or your finances are unusual, you can talk to the financial aid offices on the phone before submitting an application. In my experience, several financial aid offices had very nice people who were willing to answer questions about our specific financial situation and how it would likely play out if my kid decided to apply. All I had to do was ask for a phone appointment and each office spent about 15 minutes on the phone with me in August and September. These conversations helped distinguish which schools would likely be feasible for us before my kid got their heart set on applying to them.”
Many people echoed the advice to complete applications, essays, and admissions tests as early as possible.
One CC member, Hebegebe, recommended completing your applications before early decisions are released. “My children completed all their apps before hearing from their early schools. One got into her first choice early and was done, so the remaining apps were “wasted effort” but she was so happy it didn’t bother her…The other didn’t get into first choice early, and having those apps done with care well ahead of time paid off immensely in terms of higher quality and reduced stress the last two weeks of December.”
Other members urged students to take their admissions tests junior year and start working on essays during the summer before senior year. This might seem early, but Fall can fly by as senior year activities and academics pick up, and many schools require early decision applications to be submitted by November 1st.
One parent of a rising senior summed up the thread well while explaining their admissions strategy for the next year. "From an applicant’s standpoint, I’m planning to hedge against uncertainty by 1) encouraging my daughter to strategically use ED (both ED1 and ED2 if necessary) to increase her chances of getting into one of her reach schools, and 2) focusing a lot more on her safeties than I would have several years ago."
Applying to college can be stressful, but your high school years don't have to be spent consumed with applications and decisions. These may be some of the last months you live at home (for a while, at least), so be sure to enjoy the people and places that you'll miss the most when you're onto something new.
As Pathnottaken wisely says, “Do not miss out on your senior year stressed out about the next 4 years of college. Find time to hang out with friends and family. Relax a little.”
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