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The College Landscape: Now and Beyond

As a high school counselor here in Westchester County and owner of a college counseling business, I have been getting a lot of questions about what changes we will see on the horizon in college admissions.

In many ways, college admissions will never be the same. Colleges that have chosen to go test-optional, meaning students can choose whether or not to submit their standardized test scores, may never return to requiring them if their data shows that it did not negatively impact their recruited class. Colleges that are used to seeing students with a buffet of extracurricular activities, from sports to clubs, will see applicants who will rely on less traditional activities to showcase their talents and interests (Pandemic bread making, anyone?). The importance of the college essay and supplemental responses, always a major point of emphasis for college admissions, will only increase as colleges look for personal stories to learn more about each individual student. All these developments are good news for students and force colleges to lean into their oft-claimed “holistic approach” to admissions.

However, on the macro level, college admissions, and all its flaws, will remain the same, especially at “brand name” colleges. The emphasis remains squarely on grades and course rigor, i.e. how challenging are your classes and how well are you doing in them? This can hinder students at high schools that do not offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses, especially if the student does not submit standardized test scores. Further, the SAT and ACT are simply not going to slink off into the night so quietly. If anything, a strong test score can be hugely beneficial for an applicant, especially at more selective schools, which puts us right back into the conversation about the haves vs. the have nots. Early Decision application plans, another strategy for the right applicant but also one that limits lower income students, will become even more enticing to college admissions officers. Early Decision plans are binding and generally have a significantly higher acceptance rate than Regular Decision plans, and since it is a binding agreement, colleges can count on that student attending (and their money).

But what parents are really asking me is will it be harder for my kid to get into college? My short answer is no. By creating a balanced list of 8-10 schools, students will end up with multiple colleges to choose from when the acceptance letters have finished coming in. This formula never fails to deliver.

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