Was 2020-2021 the most difficult college application season yet? - Point Avenue

Was 2020-2021 the most difficult college application season yet?

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced universities and colleges to reinvent the admissions process that hasn’t changed for many decades. Here’s what parents and students need to know about this unprecedented application year:

The number of applications increased overwhelmingly at selective colleges

Due to test-optional policies, applicants felt encouraged to apply to more competitive universities where standardized testing (SAT/ACT/SAT II) would have acted as a barrier before 2020. Many prestigious universities received so many applications that they had to delay decision release.

  • UCLA has topped the list of “schools with most applicants” for many years. But even that experience probably didn’t prepare the admissions office to evaluate nearly 140,000 applications, a 25% increase compared to the previous year.
  • Harvard received over 57,000 freshman applications, a 43% increase.
  • MIT received 33,240 applications, a whopping 66% increase.
  • New York University topped 100,000 applications for the first time, a 17% increase


However, acceptance rates have never been lower


The overwhelming increase in applications combined with deferred enrollment from the previous year plunged acceptance rates to unprecedented lows.

  • Harvard: 3.4%
  • Columbia: 3.7%
  • Princeton: 4%
  • Yale: 4.6%
  • UPenn: 5.7%
  • MIT: 4%
  • NYU: 12.8%
  • Johns Hopkins: 5% (for Regular Decision applicants)


Low acceptance rates also mean more rejected applicants than ever. A huge number of students have been offered spots on waitlists, a special kind of limbo that to some seems even more disappointing and confusing than an outright rejection. For students in that limbo, please check out this post: Admissions Waitlist: What Is It? What Do You Do Next?


The confusion of test-optional policies


Safety concerns forced cancellation of standardized testing worldwide. In an apt response, most schools adopted a test-optional or even test-blind policy and placed heavier emphasis on the actual application itself and letters of recommendation. However, that didn’t stop universities from heavily considering test scores.


Amongst admitted students to the University of Pennsylvania during the early admissions round, over 75% still submitted their test scores. Before the pandemic, Dartmouth College “considered standardized test scores to be among the most important information alongside GPA, essays and class rank”–a signal that the student will be able to survive the academic rigor of the Ivy League institution.


“I don’t want to admit someone who is going to struggle,” said Lee Coffin, dean of admissions at Dartmouth, to the Wall Street Journal. The smallest among the Ivies, Dartmouth admitted 6.17% of first-year applicants, the lowest in its history.

Lee Coffin, Dartmouth’s vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions and financial aid, signs letters to applicants being offered admission to the Class of 2025. (Source: Dartmouth website)

Standardized test scores help demonstrate the academic performance of students, especially those coming from high schools that universities are unfamiliar with, i.e., most high schools outside of the United States. International students not achieving near perfect GPAs on globally recognized curricula like Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate are at a special disadvantage if they choose not to submit test scores, since admissions officers find it difficult to verify if the applicant will be able to keep up with college coursework.



2020-2021 was weird, to say the least. Our Harvard admit was rejected from UC Berkeley, Princeton admit was rejected from NYU. The prolonged effects of the pandemic and ever-changing college agendas promise an equally uncertain 2021-2022 application cycle.


We recommend students and parents to start preparing early and not getting hyper-fixated on rankings and competitiveness of a school, but rather widening their search and consider factors such as: cultural fit, location, career outcomes, and of course, the likelihood of receiving enough financial aid or scholarships to fund your studies. It was the same strategy we provided for our Grade 12 students and we’re happy to say that they have all been admitted to at least 3 or more colleges, including MIT, Harvard, Columbia, Pomona, Emory, Duke, Davidson, Carnegie Mellon, London School of Economics, and more.


If you have any questions or would like to schedule a 1-1 consultation, contact us today via Facebook or email at contact@pointavenue.com