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How Has the Admissions Landscape Changed? And How Should Our Family Plan? My Best Answers to Your Good Questions

How are admissions officers evaluating applications now that so many colleges have gone test optional?
With more than two-thirds of the 2330 bachelor-degree institutions in the US not currently requiring applicants to submit ACT/SAT scores, a mid-2021 survey reports that both public and private institutions are relying more heavily on high school transcripts and GPAletters of recommendation, and essays or personal statements.

This suggests that it has become even important for students early in their high school career to make thoughtful and informed decisions about their future course work. Make the most of your academics. Choose challenging classes, do your best work, make interesting choices in your homework assignments and projects.  Take every opportunity to have conversations with your teachers and classmates about what you’re learning.

Rising seniors should try to complete their college essays over the summer so they can focus on their coursework during the fall.

Is it better to try to visit campuses in person or online? How can our student make that personal connection and demonstrate interest?
Since 2020, many colleges have dramatically upgraded their admissions websites and given prospective students and their families many terrific opportunities to explore colleges and engage virtually.  When you start to research your college list, you will easily find packaged 360-degree campus tours, recorded webinars and information sessions, student blogs and vlogs, recorded lectures and seminars.  To connect with college admissions directly, you can now sign up for scheduled info sessions, one-on-ones with admissions officers and student ambassadors, interviews, and more.

As for in-person visits to campus, depending on the region and time of year, many colleges are keeping tours outdoors and in smaller groups, often just one family with a tour guide. While this may require making reservations far in advance, it also makes for a more personal and customized experience.

Will the colleges that went test optional during COVID remain test optional?
For the 2022 cycle, almost all colleges that went test optional in 2021 are holding steady. In 2021, the most highly selective colleges saw a dramatic increase in applications because of their new test optional policies. Many large and flagship public universities also saw increased applications and enrollments from under-represented and first-generation students and families, while private colleges and smaller regional publics saw a smaller effect. In general, colleges report that test optional has helped them achieve greater access.

For 2023 and beyond, about half of colleges report that they have not yet decided their test policies. They may choose to evaluate the progress of the two classes admitted under test optional – looking at student success indicators such as first-year retention – before deciding their test policies for 2023 and beyond.

So, should our high school student do test prep or focus on other activities?
Families and students should balance their considerations keeping in mind their student’s interests and aspirations, their workstyle and testing comfort, and of course their health and well-being. For some students it will still make sense to submit strong test scores. Other students can now focus on pursuing their extracurricular activities with greater depth and dedication. Transcripts and GPA remain the most important elements of a student’s application.

Important family conversations
The pandemic and other pressing social and global issues have led us all to think hard about what really matters to us ­­­­­– how we want to lead our lives, connect with others, and make our mark on the world.  Families may want to have these important conversations with their teenagers as they begin their own journey to college and adulthood.

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