The College Board announced today (January 19, 2021) that effective immediately, the SAT subject tests will be discontinued for students in the U.S. and they will be phased out for international students this summer after the May, June test dates.
This decision is the culmination of the slow and steady erosion of the subject tests, exacerbated by the pandemic and test center closures over the course of the last year. Even prior to the pandemic top universities including MIT, CalTech, and Yale had made decisions to no longer even consider these scores in their admissions processes.
The reaction from students, as you might expect, has been highly enthusiastic. Within minutes of the College Board’s announcement, Top Tier students were sending us links to the national news story.
DOUBLE-DOWN ON AP EXAMS
In light of this dramatic announcement, we encourage our students to recommit to your study plan for your upcoming AP exams, (along with your SAT and ACT work and grades). This change will lead admissions officers to put even more emphasis on results of AP exams in upcoming admissions cycles. We also believe that post-pandemic, you’ll see top colleges and universities reinstating the required SAT or ACT for the next admissions season. So, sophomores shouldn’t throw out their subject test books quite yet.
Did you miss the sign up for AP exams? The late registration for exams is March 12th, so get on that now. Remember that you don’t have to take an AP course to sign up for the exam and you can self-study for these exams. We know that some high schools discourage their students from signing up for AP exams but this change in the SAT subject test policy may lead them to reconsider their position. Lobby for yourself!
COURSES FOR CREDIT
We also know that many of you were counting on high subject test scores to help you stand out in the crowded college admissions landscape. Without subject tests available, another way you can boost your candidacy includes taking college courses for credit. Earning strong grades in these courses illustrates your readiness for college work and is yet another data point in your evaluation. Especially if you will be applying to colleges without a robust slate of AP tests, college courses are crucial to help you stand out.
Beyond just your grades and scores, colleges are increasingly inspired by students who engage with important issues and who advocate for others. Carve out a space for yourself as a leader and find creative ways to take a stand on issues that are important to you. Civic engagement is key!
So, recycle those subject test prep books if you are a junior and then get to work! We are here to help you make sense of it all.
Spring break has traditionally been a time for high school students to visit colleges, walking around campuses, participating in student-led tours, and even sitting in on classes. In the midst of the pandemic, however, most of these options are no longer viable. Without the opportunity to explore campuses, how can students figure out which colleges are the best fit for them? Below, we’ve rounded up some of the best opportunities for students looking to tour colleges from a (social) distance.
FIT IS KEY: SOCIALLY DISTANT COLLEGE VISITS
Virtual Tours: Most colleges are now offering virtual tours for students who are no longer able to visit in person. Students, for example, can tour classrooms and libraries of the University of Pennsylvania, attend a virtual information session at Middlebury, or engage with an interactive map of NYU. YouVisit offers students the opportunity to explore over 600 campuses, making it a great starting point for students considering a variety of schools. CampusTours also offers tours of more than 1,800 U.S. colleges, as well as schools in Canada, the UK, China, and France.
Webinars: In addition to virtual tours, many colleges are now offering live webinars so that students can learn more about the school and ask questions of admissions officers, financial aid officers, and current students. Pomona, for example, hosts a series of monthly webinars for prospective students, while Notre Dame offers a library of past webcasts, in addition to opportunities for live engagement. The best way to stay apprised to upcoming webinars is to register for the mailing lists at colleges that interest you. Most schools will send out announcements about upcoming webinars a week or two in advance.
College Websites: While virtual tours and webinars can give you a good overview of a school, it’s also important to do some independent research on schools that intrigue you. Take some time to review the pages of departments of interest to see which classes are being offered and what topics professors are researching. Check out the clubs, research opportunities, and fellowship programs available to undergraduate students. If you hope to study abroad, look at the opportunities for travel that the college offers and the locations you might visit. If there are certain facets of the college experience that you know will be important to you, take some time to study the ways you might explore them at particular schools!
Reach Out to Faculty: If there’s a professor whose work especially intrigues you, don’t be afraid to reach out to him or her. Not every professor will be able to respond to prospective students, but some will share information on upcoming courses, research opportunities, ways to learn more about the department, etc. Conversing with a professor at a school that interests you will not only give you a chance to learn more about that institution, but it will also give you a connection in your preferred department, should you enroll there.
Read Reviews: Websites like Niche offer people an opportunity to share reviews of and feedback on schools, which can be helpful to students looking for insights into a particular college. Personal reviews from friends or family are often even more helpful, as these people will understand your particular goals and interests. If a friend attends a school that intrigues you, reach out to ask if you can discuss his or her college experience!
It’s here! What you’ve all been waiting for, Top Tier’s annual deep dive analysis into this year’s early admissions round. Let’s get started…
Looking at the chart below, which of the following can you infer?
More students apply early to a dream school and application volumes soar.
Selectivity increases as admit rates plunge, especially when these schools don’t materially increase the number of students admitted early.
Virtual recruitment events proved to be highly successful, with top schools reporting greater engagement with prospective students than ever before.
An even more challenging RD round is in store for everyone, the result of continued increases in application volume and the need to admit fewer students to create space for students who took gap years and to carefully manage admit rates and yield.
All of the above.
*UC = University of California system. Although the UCs don’t have an early program, growth in their 2025 application volume is included for comparative purposes.
ALL OF THE ABOVE
If you chose “E”, you’re right. The robust growth in applications to top private and public universities around the country in the early round shattered records. Driving the growth in application volume: COVID-19. Just like every other aspect of our lives, the pandemic upended application projections and yield models.
Early in November, the first data released by the Common Application pointed to a 7 percent drop in the number of low-income students along with those who are the first in their families to attend college and a decrease in applications at the less selective public and private universities that draw a greater proportion of disadvantaged students.
These are important data points that underscore inequities in access to education but don’t tell the entire story.
CLARITY IN COLLEGE ADMISSIONS
Among the top private universities and public universities that have shared their early data, a clearer picture emerges. Applications have soared at selective and well-resourced universities. Fueling the growth are likely at least three factors: 1) pandemic-era test optional admissions policies at every top college and university in the country; 2) strong need-based and merit aid programs that make top public and private universities even more appealing in this time of significant economic disruption; and 3) aggressive virtual recruitment efforts on behalf of top schools to reach prospective applicants everywhere.
A note about virtual recruitment caught our eye. Yale reports that over 47,000 prospective students registered for joint virtual events featuring Yale, as compared to only 8,500 in 2019.
Without a doubt, testing has always been a real or perceived barrier to entry at the nation’s top schools. As colleges have shared details about who they admitted in the early rounds, we can see that in this new, test-optional admissions environment colleges pushed aggressively to increase the diversity of their early cohort (a typically non-diverse group of students). Some data points that underscore this push:
At Brown, 48 percent of early admits are students of color – an 8 percent increase from last year. The applicant pool saw record numbers of first-generation students and low-income students.
Dartmouth notes that almost 26 percent of accepted students are from low-income household. 36 percent of accepted students are Black, Indigenous, or people of color – a historic high.
The numbers of admitted students who are Black, Hispanic/Latinx, and Asian American have all increased at Georgetown in this early cycle.
The percentage of first-generation college students admitted to Harvard increased nearly 7 percentage points to 17 percent in this cycle. Admitted students identifying as African American increased 4 percentage points to 16.6 percent.
NOW WHAT HAPPENS?
Short term, top colleges will need to contend with bloated applicant pools and fewer spots than normally anticipated at this time of year, the result of record numbers of students in the Class of 2024 who postponed their matriculation to the fall of 2021.
One admissions dean offers insight into the challenges that lie ahead. As reported in The Hoya, as of Dec. 16, Georgetown had already received approximately 20,000 applications for the Class of 2025, putting the university on track to receive a record-breaking number of total undergraduate applications, according to Dean of Admissions Charlie Deacon. The squeeze is on as his office must take into account spots reserved for students who chose to defer matriculation. Approximately 115 students who were admitted as part of the Class of 2024 decided to defer enrollment until fall 2021.
Many other deans are mum on this topic, but it’s likely that each one of them is trying to figure out just how to best shoehorn the 2024 gap year students into the Class of 2025.
Longer term, will test-optional admissions policies remain in place at top colleges post-pandemic? That’s clearly a critical question being discussed this winter by university leaders across the country, so look for new policies to be announced this spring.
Several top universities began to shift their testing policies pre-pandemic. MIT, CalTech, and Yale, for instance, no longer considered SAT subject tests. Last May, the Board of Regents of the University of California extended the test-optional policy through 2022. In addition, the entire UC system suspended the standardized test requirement for in-state applicants in fall 2023 and fall 2024, and the ACT or SAT test requirement will be eliminated beginning in 2025 if those tests are not replaced by a new test the system is considering developing.
GENIE IN A BOTTLE
Whether your metaphor of choice runs to toothpaste in a tube or a genie in a bottle, having sampled test optional admissions policies and seeing the opportunity to increase both the size and diversity of the applicant pool, there’s likely no incentive for colleges and universities to turn back at this point. As always, we’ll share more insights as more data emerge in this most unprecedented of admissions seasons.
We are often asked if middle school is too early to start thinking about college admissions. Though some would argue that thinking about college while in middle school could lead to additional stress for students, we would argue that the earlier students start thinking ahead, the less stressful the process will be. For example, forecasting out math and science tracks ahead of time means that you can still do something about level of course rigor early on. It is more stressful to find out in 11th grade that you have no chance of competing in the top college admissions pool because you didn’t accelerate in math back when you could have in 6th grade through an honors track.
On the extracurricular side, keep in mind that most talents kids develop in high school start in elementary or middle school. Few kids pick up the trombone in 9th grade and become gifted musicians out of the blue. Talents like art, singing, instrumental prowess tend to start in elementary or middle school. Same could be said about math competitions, science fairs or athletic prowess.
Any athlete knows that starting early with skill building and fitting in your “10,000 hours” is what helps kids stand out later and develop expertise.
The most important track at most high schools is math and science, even if a student’s primary interests are in the humanities. Students should figure out how to jump ahead a year or two in math/science by taking courses like Pre-Algebra and Algebra online through places like Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth or Northwestern’s CTD. Likewise, for science – some high schools let students skip Earth Science and jump to Honors Biology in 9th grade. Many of our advanced students have been accelerating in math for years.
Take extra math and science courses so that you can aim to reach a higher math level like Algebra II/Trig by 9th grade or even Pre-Calculus. For science, aim to jump over courses like Earth Science so you can reach Honors Biology if your school offers it.
Read an hour a day from higher level books and magazines like The Atlantic, Time, Scientific American, National Geographic, and The Concord Review so you build up your reading skills. In the long run, reading is the best way to improve your academic performance. Work with us to get your personalized reading lists grade by grade and be a part of our unique vocabulary program.
Get involved in activities/sports/music/hobbies so that you can carry this leadership and skill set with you to high school.
Be active in your classes, get to know your teachers as these teachers often communicate with high school teachers and recommend kids who stand out for honors track.
Get organized – keep a whiteboard and map out assignments. Start an assignment notebook vs only using technology. Make early habits that will set you up for success.
Take a “real” SAT before high school to get an idea of where you stand. Any standardized tests you take while in 7th or 8th grade do NOT go on your permanent record so you can get a good baseline score and address any weak areas.
Get inspired and read about other kids doing extraordinary things. We love the documentary, I Am Greta, about Greta Thunberg as she launches a global movement on climate change. What do you care about?
Learn to code. Even if you aren’t a computer science kid, coding is something even business school applicants are required to have. Take a coding class during the summer. And, if you love to play video games, learn to create video games.
This year’s admissions process certainly looks different. Schools have gone test-optional, campus tours have moved online, and college admissions interviews — traditionally held in-person with alumni or admissions officers — have shifted to a virtual format. For many students, this last change feels particularly challenging. Interviews are stressful at the best of times; connecting with your interviewer and making a strong first impression over Zoom can seem impossible.
The good news: you can absolutely have a strong interview over Zoom! To help you through the process, we’ve listed below some of our top tips for virtual college admission interviews.
VIRTUAL COLLEGE ADMISSION INTERVIEWS: TOP TIPS
1. Prepare for the interview: The format of your interview might have changed, but your interviewer will still be looking for the same thing: a smart, engaged student who is seriously interested in attending their institution. Knowing this, you’ll want to take some time before your interview to think about your own interests and experiences. What have you done that shows your love of learning? What experiences can you talk about that present you as a thoughtful, active community member? Also make sure to do some research on the school itself so that you can clearly explain why you are interested in attending. What field would you like to pursue there? What research opportunities and clubs would you explore? Do you have any questions for your interviewer about the school’s offerings?
2. Pay attention to your setting: Your brilliant conversation should be the focus of your interview, but don’t discount the importance of setting. Make sure you take your Zoom call in front of a neutral background that’s as professional as possible. (If you’ll be in your bedroom, make sure to clean it up before the call!) Also check your lighting and your computer angle. Can your interviewer see you clearly, or are you backlit like an anonymized witness in a documentary? Will your interviewer be able to look you in the eye? Feel free to bring in lamps or to prop your computer up on books, if necessary!
3. Dress for success: Sweatpants may be de rigueur for virtual learning, but your interview is an opportunity to put some of your more formal clothes back into rotation. Dressing nicely shows your interviewer that you care about this meeting — that’s important! At the very least, you will want to wear a nice top (a button-up, a blouse) to the interview, since your interviewer will be able to see it during the call. It’s also wise to wear a nice pair of pants, just in case you have to stand up during the interview. The last thing you want is for your interviewer to see your pajama pants as you chase your dog out of the room!
4. Make sure you’re not interrupted: This can be challenging, especially for those with large families, but do try to avoid interruptions during your Zoom call. Ask your family to stay out of your room during your interview, as movement in the background of your call can be distracting. It’s especially important that your parents don’t speak to the interviewer on your behalf, as this can suggest that you aren’t mature enough to handle the interview (and, by extension, college) on your own.
5. Take advantage of the virtual format: Zoom interviews can feel less natural than in-person interviews, but they do offer you some advantages. You can, for example, keep a few notes or your resume on-hand to refer to if you need reminders about important points. You can also make sure you have an arsenal of items (water, tissues, etc.) nearby, just in case you need them. Make sure you take advantage of these opportunities to make yourself more comfortable during the interview. That will make the whole thing feel less stressful!
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