Forecasts for Fall 2021 Admissions

Like everything else in our COVID-colored reality, Fall 2021 college admissions decisions will be historic. Let’s review how:

  • Two-thirds of all US universities and colleges are not requiring SAT or ACT scores as part of applications, and some are not considering the SAT or ACT scores at all, implementing what’s known as “test-blind” admissions, for the first time in nearly 85 years. Thus, admissions officers are seeking to understand a student’s preparedness for college in (sometimes) less objective measurements, adding greater subjectivity to the evaluation process.  
  • Widespread use of Pass/No Pass marks during the Spring 2020 semester cannot be calculated as part of the GPA, diminishing the traditional GPA metric. College admissions officers are interpreting academic achievement in new, unprecedented ways for Fall 2021 admissions, for which the outcomes have yet to be seen
  • According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 3.6% fewer undergrads or nearly 560,000 students are no longer enrolled in US colleges as compared to 2019, representing a concomitant loss in tuition revenues, only compounding growing university fiscal deficits. Furthermore, 13.1% fewer first year students enrolled in college in Fall 2020 than in Fall 2019. (For comparison, the decline of first year students in 2019 was 1.4%.) College administrators are confronted with a Catch-22: admit more students to stave off further financial losses or since fiscal deficits may precipitate a loss in capacity to serve a larger student population, limit admissions to maintain the quality of education at the university. 
  • Many speculate that financial uncertainty in the current COVID-induced economic upheaval is affecting families’ confidence to pay for increasing college costs, thus many students did not enroll in college in Fall 2020. Admissions officers are guessing if families’ fiscal health has sufficiently recovered so they’re once again willing or able to pay for college.
  • Although students may have deferred for a year, admissions officers have no guarantee that deferred students will enroll in Fall 2021. Yet, given a set number of deferred Fall 2020 first year students exists, admissions officers may be constrained to admit fewer students for Fall 2021 to maintain capacity. 

As a result of the unusual Fall 2021 application process, I predict

  • College admissions officers will likely swell their waitlists, rather than outright deny a student admissions to create a greater than previous years’ hedge. Thus, applicants may have trickier decisions to make about where to enroll, given they may have more waitlist offers
  • Additionally, college admissions officers may again extend the enrollment response date (as they did in 2020), so students have more time to consider their college options. All eight Ivy League colleges and Stanford have already announced May 3, 2021 as their response date (rather than the usual May 1, 2021.)
  • Admissions decisions will likely roll out to applicants throughout the late winter and first week of April, whereas in typical years, students receive the majority of admissions decisions in March through April 1. Responding to applicants sooner rather than later provides admissions officers more time to recruit incoming students. 
  • Traditional forms of recruiting the incoming class of first year students will continue being disrupted. The majority of college campuses are still closed or severely limiting visitors, thus campus tours, open houses, overnight stays, attending classes, as well as one on one meetings with professors, admissions officers, and/or current students, are either cancelled or limited. Subsequently, connecting virtually with potential incoming students is more complicated and may require additional time. 

Thus, final admissions decisions in Spring 2021 will be a “buyers market”, where admitted students have greater leverage to negotiate between colleges where they’ve been admitted, for what may be their best deal overall in years. Those admitted students, therefore, should do their homework so as to not overpay for value or lack thereof of value, depending on the college(s) from which they are making a final Fall 2021 enrollment decision.

For more information about how to both plan for and navigate the complex college admissions process in order to minimize the risk of educational malinvestment, check out Creative Marbles Consultancy

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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