August Predictions for College Acceptance Rates

Phoebe Keyes, Senior College Admission Advisor Aug 2020

While college admission often feels a little mysterious and erratic, this year, of course, will be the least predictable admission season yet. According to a new student survey from SimpsonScarborough, 40 percent of incoming freshmen say it is likely or highly likely they will change their mind about the school they have chosen to attend this fall. Harvard recently announced 20 percent of incoming freshmen chose to defer their admission to next year. It’s safe to assume that, if Harvard’s enrollment dropped so substantially, most schools are dealing with the same problem. And—though few have released official numbers—plenty of sophomores, juniors, and seniors likely opted for a leave of absence.

So, what does this mean for students applying this year (or next, for that matter)? Of course, so much depends on a COVID vaccine or viable treatment. Even more depends on how colleges handle the next few weeks.

Here’s what we know—for now.

Many colleges will likely admit more students to account for this year’s enrollment deficit. Seniors should take some comfort in this, but the situation is a little more complex.

  • Keep in mind, many of those students who deferred will enroll next year. Even though enrollment dropped at most schools, those deferred students will take many of those spots. And students who decided to take a gap year but weren’t approved for a deferral will be applying to college again, which will inflate the freshman application pool.
  • The SimpsonScarborough survey found students were wary of trusting colleges to handle the crisis, and if we see more colleges fumble like UNC did this week, we’re likely to see a spike in transfer applications this year, too.
  • Even colleges with hefty endowments are feeling the financial strain. Stanford, for example, recently announced substantial layoffs and even dipped into its endowment to balance its budget. It’s possible we’ll see colleges shrink departments and cut faculty. It might take a few years, especially at less wealthy schools, for enrollment to return to normal.
  • If the US doesn’t get a handle on spread soon, we’re likely to see fewer international students on campus next year. While that’s good news if you’re applying from the US, keep in mind that this cuts both ways. Normally, a significant portion of the junior class studies abroad. If those students aren’t allowed to travel to foreign programs, there will be fewer spots available on campus.
  • Some schools, including Princeton, have already announced they will only have one deadline this year. If schools do away with Early Decision, it might be more difficult than usual to get into your first choice.  

There’s still so much we don’t know. But here’s what you can do in the meantime. Remote learning and canceled testing means colleges used to relying heavily on scores and GPA to make decisions will have to change their approach. This means it will be more difficult this year to gauge whether or not a student will be accepted. You might consider applying to a few more schools than we’d normally advise—just to make sure you’re covering your bases.

Your application—especially your essays and extracurriculars—will matter more than ever. Don’t wait until the last minute. Your essays, especially, are your best chance to make an impression.

It’s a scary and bizarre time to apply to college, but the situation is changing daily. Try not to obsess over every announcement, survey, and op-ed. We’ll keep you apprised of important changes. So, don’t panic, double down on those essays, and—as always—let us know how we can help

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