Lessons from an Unusual Year: Sharing Results from Applerouth’s IEC Survey
As you begin to turn your attention from the Class of 2021 to the Class of 2022, we pause to reflect on what lessons the wild ride of the past admissions cycle might have to teach us. Thank you for sharing your insights with us during our recent IEC Survey; we are always so grateful to learn from you and with you. If there is one overarching theme we were able to clearly extract from this year’s IEC survey results, it is that your families have been so fortunate to have you in their corners, helping them navigate the twists and turns of an unprecedented year.
The disruptions brought on by the pandemic manifested themselves in the admissions process in three key and interrelated ways: the inability for students to visit campus in person and a dramatic increase in the number of colleges offering test optional admissions policies led to more of your students submitting more applications than ever before. Uncertainty gives rise to uncertainty: students couldn’t visit colleges, so they were less sure of their choices and therefore cast a wider net; no one was sure of how new test optional policies would change outcomes, prompting students to apply to more schools; and without a key data point, colleges were less certain of who would enroll, which has led to longer waiting on longer waitlists.
While colleges have lauded the rise of “virtual visits” as a way to provide greater access to their campuses for students who would not otherwise have been able to visit, we know that an online visit is an imperfect way for students to experience the place they might call home for four years. Students who were not able to physically explore the colleges they were considering struggled to narrow down their lists and articulate why any given college felt like the right fit on the all-important “why us” essays. We all did what we could to bring real college students and their stories to life for the Class of 2021, including Applerouth’s own Virtual College Road Trip last summer, but without being able to tour campuses, attend classes in person, and sample the food and social life, students were forced to rely on things like reputation and the experiences of those closest to them. Your reflections suggest that without compelling reasons to rule schools out, students wound up with more colleges on their lists.
Fifty-eight percent of IECs reported their seniors applied to more schools than in previous years, while only around 3% noticed an overall decrease, with most of those citing a student’s desire to stay closer to home as the primary reason for applying to fewer schools. For those 58% who saw an uptick in the number of applications submitted, about 1 in 5 indicated it was due to students’ increased confidence when submitting applications to more competitive schools that had created test-optional lanes, while around half of respondents cited the unpredictability or uncertainty in the admissions process as the reason for casting a wider net. As noted above, an inability for in person visits also stood out as a key factor:
Test Optional = More Options
Of course, no discussion of the 2020-2021 admissions cycle would be complete without reflecting on what role the majority of colleges offering test optional policies played. While the test optional path has provided long-overdue access and encouragement to students historically underrepresented at selective colleges, the corresponding increase in application numbers has made some of those most selective schools even more selective than ever.
In February, Inside Higher Ed reported 44% of students submitted SAT or ACT scores through the Common Application as opposed to 77% having submitted by the same time in 2020. But the unanswered question was were students not submitting scores because they were unable or unwilling to take the tests, or because they were choosing to withhold test results from some schools while submitting to others for strategic reasons. Our survey found that just over half of your students who did not submit scores (53%) did so for strategic reasons and only 2% didn’t test because they were uncomfortable with the idea of doing so.
As stories about skyrocketing numbers of applications and plummeting admissions rates at the most selective, well-known schools dominate headlines, we do not want to forget that the opposite may be true for many smaller, lesser-known institutions. Now, more than ever, your students are benefitting from the years you spent visiting colleges in a year they could not, and your focus on identifying and celebrating a great ‘fit’ between student and school. Remember some of these “hidden gems” from our 2019 IEC survey?
While so much has changed in the last year, it will be interesting to see what might not change back as we move forward. For example, over a third of you reported that you will continue to exclusively work remotely after it is no longer necessary. Colleges hope that virtual visits will continue to allow students greater access to their campuses. And while we know that test optional policies will continue to allow students to decide what role testing will play in their application process, we also recognize that they will need your help building lists that are both balanced and well-matched.
Whatever the future might hold, we appreciate being able to partner with you towards student success. Here’s hoping we’ll all be able to share ideas and resources (and visit!) in person again soon.