College Admissions More Competitive than Ever


Columbia University pictured by Lexi Mariash

Lexi Mariash, Editor in Chief

In the midst of a pandemic with seniors split between online and in-person learning, the class of 2021 is facing its biggest challenge yet, the college admissions process.

Halfway through the admissions season with applications submitted months ago, seniors this year are learning that it may be harder to get into college for them than any class before.

The Lack of Testing

Due to the pandemic, juniors last year found themselves struggling to take both the SAT and ACT. Test dates were pushed back continuously, and some testing centers closed indefinitely. A saving grace came when universities across the nation announced what seemed like great news, they would not require the ACT or SAT for the class of 2021 applicant pool. It wasn’t until months later when applications were submitted that the aftermath of that decision came to fruition.

With the roadblock of standardized test scores now removed, colleges across the nation saw, on average, between a 10%-30% applicant increase, with schools like Harvard University gaining a 42% increase according to the Wall Street Journal.

“I’ve got mixed feelings, I think personally this year had been very tuff, having to worry about these tests that carry so much weight is a lot to stress about, it sucks its another thing to worry about, I dislike the tests themselves, they’re very outdated and aren’t a good way to show students abilities,” said senior Ben Hense.

Many other Seniors shared Hense’s thoughts towards the SAT and ACT and gladly submitted their applications with no test scores.

Students who would have never considered applying to higher-level schools decided they had a greater chance now to get into a reach school than ever.

“These students would have never applied because they did not meet the requirements, many of these new applicants already knew they didn’t qualify for these major institutions,” said Gaither Guidance Counselor Thomas Mazard.

But what does test-optional mean for students who choose to provide their scores?

When schools announced they would be going test-optional, it was accompanied by a generic statement saying that students who do not provide test scores will not be at a disadvantage, but those who have scores available are encouraged to submit them.

“[Going test optional] was a trap,” said Mazard, “while the requirement was taken off, those students who provided it had an advantage.”

This issue may continue to seniors next year as many universities announced they plan to extend the test-optional policy for the next year’s admission process as well.

The Odd State Out

Florida schools seemed almost immune to the influx of applicants that plagued schools across the country, a distinction that boils down to Florida schools requiring test scores for admission.

Not only did Florida schools see a much lower applicant increase with UF gaining 3.6% more and FSU seeing only a .6% applicant increase according to the Orlando Sentinel, decisions for Florida schools, while still pushed back, were announced weeks ahead of their national counterparts.

The why of Florida schools requiring test scores may have something to do with Bright Futures.

“Students who applied for Florida schools also applied for Bright Futures, and Bright Futures required those scores,” said Mazard.

Bright Futures is a statewide scholarship program in Florida that provides students with up to 100% coverage scholarships rewarding high GPAs, high SAT scores and a required amount of community service hours.

“Bright futures is fantastic, one of the scariest parts that shoves people away from attending higher school is the money aspect. Having a way to lighten the load for students is a great investment,” said Hense, “It is a relief, I think if your main focus to go to college should be to go to college not worrying about paying off debt, it helps students focus more on attending college.”

The Admissions Process 

When colleges and universities are picking their freshman class, they want a unique and diverse group. Aside from clearing the initial GPA and conduct requirements, you need to stand out and be a candidate who offers something that no one else is.

“All these students applying have a great GPA, great test scores, sports, community service, that’s just the bar to clear,” said Mazard, “it’s your story that sets you apart from the rest.”

Admissions offices are interested in overly capable students. While attending a renowned college is many high schoolers’ dream, the workload only gets harder. These elite schools have rigorous assignments and intense schedules, admissions offices want students they feel confident can handle what’s in front of them.

“When colleges say they want the B, you need to give them that A+. You have to go above and beyond for these schools,” said Mazard.

Many colleges are looking more into students than just what they have already accomplished, they want students who show the potential to do even more with their degree and give the school a great name for years to come.

While this sounds like an apt process, it leaves many overly qualified candidates out to dry.

The Applicant Experience

When applying to schools, students will select schools from three groups. Safety schools, where the student exceeds expectations and is highly likely to be accepted, target schools, where a student meets expectations and is a competitive contender for acceptance and reach schools, where students may not meet the criteria but still take a chance and apply.

When applying for regular admission, these schools can respond one of three ways, you are accepted admission, denied admission or put on the waitlist. The waitlist is when you are neither accepted nor denied admission, rather, you are put on a list to choose from when spots become available.

Upon seeing the few decisions that have been announced, students are starting to question where they lie and what that means for the rest of their decisions.

“I was rejected from a school that had a higher acceptance rate than a school I had already been accepted to,” said senior Abby Rey, I realized I should have applied to more target schools.”

Many applicants are seeing inconsistencies throughout their decisions from getting rejected from safety schools, accepted to reach schools and waitlisted throughout, students simply don’t know where they stand for the rest of the decisions coming out in the next week.

“I think it’s a mixture of both random selection and an increase of applicants. Every year it becomes more competitive and confusing. The best thing we can do is apply to a good selection of schools and understand the nature of college admissions. A rejection is not a reflection of your capabilities,” said Rey.

Many people have noted how random the selection process that schools are using seems this year. The unpredictable nature of decisions is leaving many applicants questioning what more they could’ve done.

“While I believe the process is random, I think the only thing I could’ve possibly done more was more impactful community service, but I believe that comes with connections and abilities. COVID-19 has been a large stop for many people just to protect themselves and families. Other than that, there are many people who have had more time to build a resume by taking a gap year or starting their college journey late giving such an unfair advantage to students in high school [especially] in a pandemic,” said senior Mystique Quade.

The Decisions

Due to the overflow of applicants this year many universities extended their deadlines and decision dates by a couple of weeks, even dipping into the month of April.

Quade raises her concerns on what pushing back decision dates could lead to.

“[With] less decision time that could possibly impact [student’s] financial situations or college [choice] based on finances and the stress of the unknown,” said Quade.

While issues of finances and commitment deadline are starting to arise now, they can become costly decisions by the time students are notified about their waitlist status.

“Many schools are not telling waitlisted students until after the required commitment date if they are accepted into schools. [This] mean[s] some may not go to a certain school [because they are] not given enough time and schools releasing decisions in April only giv[ing] students about a month to decide [is causing] issues with things such as finances leaving an unfair decision to be made,” said Quade.

The possibility of getting off a waitlist at a preferred school has many students committing to colleges they are not certain they will go to.

“It has been stressful especially since we have to commit to a school before we find out about waitlist decisions, and I may not know where I’m going until late June or August which gives me significantly less time to prepare,” said senior Josephina Dimillo.

Once decisions come out many statistics are predicted to change. With higher applicant pools and standard class sizes, many schools’ acceptance rates will drop drastically. With all these new applicants who weren’t expecting to apply to as many schools as they did, the amount called up from the waitlist might also change based on how many people end up declining their admission.

Class of 2021 seniors have had many obstacles throughout the admissions process and while decisions can come with a lot of disappointment and frustration, it’s up to each student to take advantage of the opportunities they receive and continue to pursue higher education. No matter where you end up, any school is just as good as you make it.