Making Peace With 2021 Admission Results

By Kathy Laberge, College Admission Coach 

Dear Class of 2021, 

It isn’t you, it’s them.  Only the colleges know what they were seeking in a freshman class this year. You have every right to be baffled, disappointed even. This was an extremely confusing year for both applicants and colleges. 

Not a day goes by when our staff doesn’t share stories of our students. We have mentored, pushed (maybe even shoved,) and cheered you on.  Over an admission season we may share our delight in a particular essay or bounce application strategies off one another. And now, in April, we share our excitement at admissions and scholarships, and, also discuss our dismay at a disappointing rejection. We gaze into our crystal balls trying to determine why Princeton accepted an applicant, but Brown did not. Why did Harvard take a student, but that same student was denied at Northeastern?  

These answers are held secret in comfortable conference rooms (and confidential Zoom meetings). Building an incoming class is akin to practicing medicine, a combination or art and science. Every admission officer from highly selective colleges we have ever spoken with has told us they turn away hundreds, even thousands, of viable candidates each year. Colleges decide where to weight their admits and those factors vary annually. Some years they may need more high GPA students, others may be focused on increasing diversity, and other years may demand more students who will pay the full tuition tab. Their decision is not based upon who they want to admit; they are forced to decide which students they must turn away. In short, each year they extend a place in the class to students who meet their needs and those they deem most likely to accept an offer of admission.   

This year the most selective colleges reported some of the lowest acceptance rates in history. Harvard saw a 42% increase in applications and MIT had 66% more applicants than last year. Even New York University, housed in a city plagued by Covid-19, saw an increase of 20%. Admission officers were overwhelmed by the sheer number of applications. Some colleges called in retired employees to review the applications and others had to give shorter looks to submissions. 

Why did we see this increase in applications? Did students reach for dream schools because they were test optional? It is said standardized tests provide a common denominator. They can serve as a triage tool, a way for admission officers to not assess the curriculum at every high school from which an applicant emerges. In a year when many candidates could not submit standardized test scores how can a student be blamed for taking a wild shot at an Ivy? We suspect 2020 offered students time to make their sole extracurricular activity applying to colleges, even though the time and effort required to prepare those applications is astonishing. You can’t win it if you’re not in it, right? Our students were spared this ordeal, but we weep for all the wasted time, money, and emotion that was expended on crap shoot applications.  

The first meeting at The College Advisor of New York is spent stressing our commitment to finding a student’s right fit. We know there are more than (the top) twenty-five excellent institutions of higher learning in this country. A terrific education is available at countless colleges and universities. Competition for faculty positions is fierce and we proudly number some former students on numerous campuses as faculty. Our confidence is not misplaced, we know firsthand how extraordinary these people are.  In fact, the vast majority of our clients were admitted to most of their schools. The “top twenty-five” are overrated.

In a year where lengthy college waitlists are the norm and highly selective colleges have turned away so many promising young adults, we urge you to maintain perspective. College will be grand. You will learn astonishing amounts of information, discover passions you never knew you had, and make lifelong friends. 

It isn’t you. It’s them. So, perhaps they didn’t tender an offer of admission to you. And that? Is their loss. 

Getting to know you was our privilege. 

Dean, Barbara, Ann, Beth, Erin, Deb and Kathy