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Test-Optional and the Changing Admissions Landscape

FA Director of College Counseling Ruth Slocum
Families with students who are looking ahead to the college admissions process understandably have many questions regarding standardized testing.  Due to the pandemic, the testing landscape has changed dramatically, and test-optional admissions at most colleges and universities are likely here to stay. This is good news in many respects, but there are also downsides to this development in terms of a student’s chances of admission to highly selective institutions. These types of colleges, which are the best known and are at the top of the rankings, have grown even more selective as their application numbers have risen dramatically in the last two years. 

Before test-optional admissions were available, usually only students who had high standardized test scores submitted applications to highly selective colleges, thus limiting the applicant pool.  Today any student with a strong record in high school and robust extracurricular activities might consider a highly selective school as a possibility. While many students who do not have strong standardized tests could now be admitted to highly selective schools, another result of this change is that the chance of admission, even for very highly eligible candidates, is smaller than ever before. For example, last year Harvard University received 57,000 applications, an increase of 42% from the year before.  Colgate University’s application numbers increased 104% during the same period.  It received 8,500 applications for the Class of 2024 and 17,533 for the Class of 2025.

Early Decision 
Another unintended result of test-optional admissions is that Early Decision applications have gained in importance. Early Decision refers to a type of application that requires applicants to agree to attend the college if they are admitted.  Early Decision has been an option for many years but colleges usually limited the number of applicants that they accepted in this round to 30% or less of a class because Early Decision applicants are usually the most well-resourced and privileged types of applicants. Currently, though, many highly selective schools are admitting 5o% of their classes through Early Decision applications.  The reasons for this shift are numerous but the effect is that the already slim chances of admission in the Regular Decision round have become even smaller. The most recent statistics from Northeastern University make the statistical advantages of Early Decision clear.  This year Northeastern received 2,700 Early Decision applications and admitted 800 students for a 33% admission rate.  Northeastern also offers non-binding Early Action admission.  It received 50,000 Early Action applications this year and admitted just 3,000 students for an admission rate of 6%.
These recent shifts make the importance of building a strategic and balanced college list more important than ever.  Students need to work closely with their college advisor to create a plan that will set them up to have meaningful choices in the spring of senior year.  At Falmouth Academy, our task is to stay abreast of the changing landscape in order to help students and families make the best possible decisions as they build a college list. 

Photos from Peer Reference Day in the fall.
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