The arrival of June signals the end of the school year, and with that, we are bidding farewell to our beloved senior class and sending them off to college. To celebrate the graduation of our seniors, we interviewed Director of College Counseling Ari Worthman, Associate Director of College Counseling Mal Goss, and college counselor Mark Kranwinkle about the college admissions landscape for the Class of ’21.
Mr. Worthman shared some of the data the college counselors gathered for this year. The number of applications students submitted rose from last year’s 989 to 1191, a 20% increase. The average senior in the Class of ’21 submitted 12.3 applications (excluding Early Decision and Restrictive Early Action), compared to last year’s average of 11.9. Alongside the rise in applications, however, the percentage of admitted applications decreased from 52% to 46%. The college counseling team observed that despite disruptions brought by the pandemic, college admissions statistics seem similar to prior years – in 2019, the percentage of admitted applications was 48%, and the number of total applications was 1190. Although they indicate fewer positive results, the numbers mentioned above are not extraordinary, but rather reasonable deviations from the mean.
Of course, this is not to say that this year’s admissions cycle was perfectly normal. Mr. Worthman said that the “emerging narrative in our community is that this year’s outcomes were worse than other years,” a claim fueled by the fact that more applications were waitlisted and denied than in other years.
However, Mr. Worthman notes that the situation is more nuanced than most people believe. He believes that since seniors were submitting more applications, they received more good news and more bad news than usual, but the latter tended to drown out the former. Ms. Goss commented that she, too, is “wary of using crowdsourced feedback”: the most attention-drawing cases are often extremely good or extremely bad news, neither of which are representative of results as a whole.
This year has been a challenging one not just for Lakeside seniors but also for the college counseling team. Due to staff reductions, the college counselors were forced to restructure their office to accommodate the change; the number of counselees per full-time college counselor increased from about 37 to about 52. Lakeside’s college essay specialist, Catharine Jacobsen, doubled her hours to support more seniors. In addition, Operations Manager Marcia Chaddock moved into a new role reviewing essays, and the counseling team hired a third part-time essay specialist. These adjustments to the workflow aimed to give each student individual attention.
The college counseling team also shared their thoughts on the trend of increasing applications, which the pandemic and test-optional policies have only served to accelerate. Though students tend to consider applying to more schools to combat admissions uncertainty, the team generally counsels against this. Mr. Kranwinkle noted that students who received better results this year tended to be those who could best assess their own strengths and weaknesses and were thus more decisive “in choosing a school that was the right fit for them, and at which they had the best chances of admission.” Similarly, Mr. Worthman cautions students that presenting themselves on paper is a very time-consuming process, and students should take care to not “distribute and dilute their efforts across too many schools.”
Another prevalent topic in the college admissions landscape was whether or not increased gap year students from the Class of 2020 made this year’s admissions more rigorous and negatively impacted admissions chances of the Class of ’21. Ms. Goss believes that most of these concerns are unfounded speculations: data obtained from counseling programs showed that though the percentage increase in the number of gap year students was high, the number of those students was low.
Ultimately, different seniors were affected differently by the pandemic. Mr. Worthman found that at most schools, admission rates for Lakeside students experienced statistically insignificant drops. However, a few schools – such as Tufts, Georgia Tech, Boston University, Northeastern, and Barnard – experienced significant shifts in their selectivity. Some students who likely would have been admitted in prior years did not receive good news this year. As a result, even though “applications were up everywhere,” commented Mr. Worthman, “students felt the selectiveness increase at some places more than others.”
We are drawing the curtain on the 2020-2021 college admissions cycle, and soon the Class of ’22 will be up next. The college counselors’ top piece of advice to rising seniors is to not become fixated on “brand name” schools. “We want Lakesiders to know that there are lots of great schools out there,” said Mr. Worthman. He reiterates that “for most students, where they go to college is not tied up with their futures.” Though brand-name colleges have obvious appeals, he reminds students to recognize that “marketing and branding are not always equal to better quality.” No matter which colleges our seniors will be attending, we wish the best of luck to them in their next adventures!
Anya S. ’21 contributed reporting to this article.