What's the Secret to Getting Admitted to College

By: Barbara Leventhal | Last Updated: March 2, 2022

The pandemic brought many changes to our lives – and to US college admission practices. The latter are not going to shift back to the way they were pre-pandemic, and so I want to go over where you are right now – how these events will impact your teen’s college admission chances.

Broadly speaking, the vista from the top of the mountain right now looks something like this:

  • More than 6.5 million applications were submitted to the 900+ Common App schools through February 15, 2022.
  • So far, the number of applications is up 9% over last year’s tally – and that tally was up 10% over the previous year’s!

Event #1: The pandemic caused colleges to make tests optional.

As a result of Covid, many schools and test centers were forced to shut down, and students had no access to testing centers for the SAT, ACT, and TOEFL. Consequently, colleges went “test optional.” Before the pandemic, some 1,000 colleges gave students the option of applying without submitting test scores. Now, more than ⅔ of colleges are test optional or test blind, and the number is growing even though most students are back in school and do have access to testing centers.

Event #2: Colleges got record numbers of applicants.

The pandemic produced a domino effect: because students didn’t have to submit SAT or ACT scores, colleges received a record number of applications. Colleges were forced to reevaluate their admission process, which led to greater emphasis on a “holistic” approach to admission. That holistic approach allowed colleges like FSU and UCLA to admit the most qualified and diverse classes in their history!

According to Hege Ferguson, Director of Admissions at FSU, “FSU has received more than 74,000 first-year applications for 2022. That number is already ahead of last year’s record total of 66,033 applications with across-the-board increases from in-state, out-of-state, and international students. This year’s total is expected to surpass more than 75,000 applications as prospective students still have until March 1, 2022, to submit an application. Since 2016, FSU has seen an astounding 157% increase in first-year applications.”

UCLA had a 28% increase in applications to a record-high of 108,877 – for roughly 15,000 places in the freshman class; its admit rate dropped from 14% to 10%. For every single spot in the freshman class at Stanford, there were 12 students who applied with a 4.0 GPA or better! If I were a parent, I would be thinking about how my teen can measure up to that kind of competition. secret to getting admitted to college

Event #3: The abundance of applicants pushed the acceptance rates at elite schools into the single digits.

Colleges like Harvard and Stanford admitted fewer than 5% of their applicants. Amherst College in Massachusetts dropped from 12% to 8%, Emory University in Atlanta went from 17% to 13%, Tufts University near Boston went from 15% to 11%. In other words, admission to the most competitive schools in the nation just got even tougher. But that had a domino effect on the next tier down, and the next, and next, etc – essentially sending admission rates spiraling downward at most selective and well-known universities.

In 2020 and 2021, families and students struggled with pandemic-induced changes and were disappointed with acceptance results. Many parents make the mistake of underestimating the competition. They think that because their teen is a high performer in school, they’re all set! They don’t realize that colleges look at students on a national or global level. Your teen is competing against a nation of valedictorians, salutatorians, performing arts stars, published authors, non-profit organization founders, independent researchers, national competition champions, inventors, student government presidents, newspaper editors, and more in the USA. Now add the international students. Parents need to realize that the talent pool is deep and wide. Yes, there are far, far more applicants with the grades, curriculum, and test scores for the top 100 schools than there are spaces available. And that’s not counting the underrepresented populations that colleges are actively seeking to increase: socio-economically disadvantaged, first generation, and underrepresented minority students. And don’t forget legacies, recruited athletes, and children of famous parents.

Universities aren’t only looking for good students; they’re looking for future alumni who will be successful after graduation and contribute to the world and to their alma maters. Top GPAs and test scores don’t get students admitted to college. Strong academics tell colleges, “I can handle the rigor, competition, and course load,” but grades and test scores don’t give universities a reason to admit one student over thousands of other students with the same excellent grades and rigorous curriculum.how to get admitted to college

So, what’s the secret to getting admitted into college?

Getting into college comes down to one thing: MAKING YOUR TEEN STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD! Even in the most competitive year, students who presented a compelling story for admission were accepted at one or more of their top-choice colleges. Without extracurricular achievements, one student looks like many others – a compilation of data points. Students need to stand out through distinct commitment to a few meaningful activities, and by writing strong essays coupled with outstanding letters of recommendation.

According to the American College Counselors Association, the average student-to-counselor ratio is 451:1. Yikes! At many schools, the ratios are even larger; the school counselor’s role is administrative, and his or her focus is on the application process in senior year. In contrast, by working strategically beginning in middle or high school with one of our college counselors, we’ll identify your teen’s strengths and limitations, and find ways to counteract weaknesses and fill gaps – and help them stand out in the applicant pool. By the time your teens apply to college they’ll have authentic stories to tell as evidenced by high grades in challenging courses – and holistic markers: meaningful extracurricular achievements, reflective essays, and top-notch recommendations. They’ll be dancing right off the application and through the gates of one of their top-choice colleges. Contact us to start planning your teen's future today!


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