Another Surge in College Applications?
A student’s first quarter of the school year is a time to meet with teachers, make connections with his or her classmates, and possibly settle into a new school. However, seniors face one of the most stressful and demanding times of their lives: the college application season. As college admissions deadlines approach, students submit standardized test scores, write their common app essay in addition to all the supplements required for each particular university, and collect their letters of recommendation. On top of that, seniors are juggling to balance the workload of AP courses, clubs, and varsity sports.
"applying to college is hard for seniors every year. With the pandemic added on top of the application stress, it has been a tricky thing to balance."
One senior, Emma Baumgarten, shares that “applying to college is hard for seniors every year. With the pandemic added on top of the application stress, it has been a tricky thing to balance. When I thought about applying to college, before I had actually gone through the process, I always thought the application process would be slow. However, the deadlines are quickly approaching and I am now realizing how fast time has flown.”
During the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, the widespread adoption of test-optional policies ultimately encouraged students to apply to colleges that may have seemed out of reach, particularly for students whose standardized test scores are not representative of their academic abilities. Yet, the increased number of gap-year students who deferred enrollment from the previous year due to the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the availability of spaces for the incoming freshman class. This sense of admissions optimism compounded with the uncertainty about the number of spots for freshmen ultimately led students to apply to a groundbreaking number of colleges, driving up total applications and dropping acceptance rates throughout the country.
One such college that made headlines for this surge in applicants was Colgate University, with a 102% increase in applications in 2021. UC Berkeley’s applicant pool also climbed by 28%, and a record 112,800 students sought spots in their freshman class. Another alarming growth in applicants was at Harvard, with applications surging 43% over the previous year and Yale’s applicant pool growing by a shocking 33%.
"I’m hoping now that this year’s admissions cycle will be less difficult and another surge in applications is prevented, so qualified students aren’t getting rejected.”
Shivi Jain, another senior at Edgemont, expressed her concern with the distressing surge in applications. “At first I was stressed from everything I heard regarding the competitive application cycle, especially last year with the pandemic. I’m hoping now that this year’s admissions cycle will be less difficult and another surge in applications is prevented, so qualified students aren’t getting rejected.”
In this college admission cycle, there is a particular focus on preventing another record-breaking application year. The demands associated with applying to more schools can preclude students from spending time on schoolwork and nonacademic responsibilities while adding more stress that worsens their mental health and well-being. Another surge in applications may lead admissions officers to streamline their review of applications and dismantle the quintessence of the holistic admissions process, an approach used by selective colleges to evaluate applicants based on the whole student instead of their GPA and test scores.
The process of reading an application has only become more complicated. More selective universities require a complete application, the main essay with a 650-word limit, and extensive supplements. Yale University’s supplement calls for nine additional essays, while The University of Michigan asks all applicants to write two supplemental essays. Reading and evaluating these rising applications with the same number of admissions staff members requires colleges to cut corners.
Another problematic aspect of the process is deciding if each school is the right fit for the next four years. Luckily, the seniors this year can see with their own eyes the campuses of the schools they are applying to, rather than through a computer screen. Emma was fortunate enough to visit many college campuses, sharing that she “enjoyed seeing the different ways that schools have adapted their admissions processes whether it be virtual visits, webinars, or being able to visit in person.” She added, “I enjoyed visiting schools because it was a fun and interesting experience for me as I tried to imagine myself as a student at their school.”
As Edgemont seniors and thousands across the country navigate the demands of school on top of their home and work responsibilities, they are also concerned with where they will spend the next four years. Hopefully, even if colleges fail to become a part of the solution to admissions-related stress, students may consider being more selective about the colleges they choose to apply to. If this occurs, applicant pools will shrink, acceptance rates will increase, and more importantly, students will reclaim the college admissions process with acceptance instead of rejection.