The admissions deans from Tufts, Northeastern, and Boston University presented a “Best of Boston: Year in Review” webinar yesterday, reflecting on this most recent application cycle and emphasizing messages for future applicants. The pandemic forced admissions offices to make changes more rapidly, and for the most part, the changes have been good ones:
New Test Optional Policies
All three of these schools announced test optional policies for the first time this past year as a direct result of students’ lack of access to standardized testing in most parts of the country. What did they discover? These admissions professionals echoed what I had heard from others—they had more freedom to dive into all areas of the application without the influence of a test score. They spent more time evaluating the rigor of high school curricula, in context. Essays and recommendations meant more. Activities—or lack of activities—were viewed through the pandemic lens. Test scores were less important than in previous years.
What does this mean for students applying in this upcoming cycle? Many schools, including these three, will remain test optional for the 2021-22 cycle. If your score is one that accurately reflects your academic ability and achievement, include your score. It is another data point for them to consider, much like an award earned on a single day of competition in one of your extracurricular activities.
FYI: The Florida state universities were not test-optional for the 2020-21 application cycle and we expect the same policy for 2021-22. The Georgia state university system recently announced that tests will be required again for the students applying in this upcoming year.
Redefining Demonstrated Interest
While most colleges have the capability to track when you visit campus or attend a presentation at your high school, most are finding other more equitable ways to discover how interested you are in them—and therefore, how likely you are to attend. Tufts, BU, and Northeastern all highly recommended that you sign up on their mailing lists so you can stay up to date on the latest campus news. That’s a no-cost first step to showing your interest.
How can you utilize the resources available to you? The information you can gather from opening a college’s targeted emails, reading their website, and attending their virtual information and Q&A sessions will help you determine whether the college offers what you are looking for. If when prompted to show why College X is a good fit for you, you can do that authentically with details you’ve learned from your research, you demonstrate interest. Liz Cheron, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions for Northeastern University, says she notices students who are “thoughtfully engaged in the process.”
FYI: Of these three schools, currently only one of them is open for on-campus tour groups. The other two hope to be ready for visitors this summer.
More Robust Applicant Pools
In this presentation and others I recently attended, one thing is evident: admissions professionals are absolutely gushing over their incoming class of students. The changes accelerated by the pandemic introduced more students to the possibility of attending these unique universities, so admissions offices had an even greater number of interesting applicants to choose from.
Based on this year’s results, should you adjust your approach?
Your approach should always be to showcase your true self and all your strengths, and to apply to a balanced list of schools that will help you achieve your goals. Regardless of the application year, there are more qualified applicants than there are spots available at some schools. The tricky part is with colleges now providing less quantifiable data about their accepted students, it will be harder for you to know if your overall profile is competitive at the schools that interest you. So be honest with yourself (how do you compare to others at your high school? are you setting the curve? do you rely on extra credit?) and be willing to explore the unknown. There are nearly 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States alone—and more than one will be a match for you!