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Class of 2025 Admissions Trends Part I: Canaries in the Coal Mine?

Next month, as colleges finalize and release decisions on their early action and early decision applicants, we’ll have our first indication of the kinds of decisions colleges have begun to make as they build a base for their first-year class. But, while we wait, let’s look at some of the information that has been made public.

CLASS OF 2025 ADMISSIONS TRENDS THUS FAR

Here’s what we know…

UVA has received a record number of early decision and early action applications, as reported in the Cavalier Daily. Compared to last year at this time, early decision applications increased by 35 percent (761 more applications) and early action applications by 15 percent (3,762 more applications), respectively. Although the percentage increase in early decision applications is eye-popping, the actual number is less so. In-state students comprise a majority of ED applicants (54 percent to 46 percent) but out-of-state students, looking to leverage the ability to apply early action to UVA along with an early application to a top private college, clearly dominate the early action pool, comprising 72 percent of applicants to this program.

UNC, another top public university, saw its early action applications grow by 10 percent to just under 32,000 applicants. The UNC admissions blog post is short on details about applicant demographics, but we suspect that out-of-state students who also applied to top private universities comprise a healthy chunk of that increase using UNC as a back-up since it is non-binding.

University of Georgia, on its admissions blog, notes nearly 21,000 early applications, a healthy 27 percent increase. Early indicators based on data on students who have started their UGA RD applications lead them to expect a larger than usual RD pool.

The data from these three top public flagship universities suggest some other possible trends for the year. First, the economic hit that so many families have taken these last nine months, especially with record-high job losses and unemployment, likely has more students looking to stay in-state or closer to home rather than to seek private or public schools out of state. With new test-optional policies, the flagships are drawing more applicants from both in-state and regionally who, in other years, may not have been competitive in these pools. Finally, travel restrictions that have limited students’ abilities to visit campuses beyond their region —potentially along with a family’s desire to keep students closer to home—may also be driving more applicants to a state’s flagship campus.

WHAT’S HAPPENING AT TOP PRIVATE UNIVERSITIES?

Brown’s Daily Herald, towards the end of an article on Logan Powell, Brown’s dean of admissions, reports a 16 percent increase in early decision application volume this year. We learn in the article that key measures of socioeconomic diversity – namely the numbers of first generation students and students from low-income families – have not slipped, but no other clues as to the composition of the early pool are indicated.

We’re not surprised by the healthy increase in early decision volume at a top school like Brown, especially since the new, pandemic-era test-optional admissions policies at top schools are sure to entice more students with strong grades and either lower scores or no scores to aim high in the early round. In prior years, most of those students would have likely self-selected out of the pools at places like Brown.

COMMON APPLICATION DATA

As reported by Inside Higher Ed earlier in November, the Common Application received 8 percent fewer applications through November 2 as compared to the same time last year. Additionally, 60 percent of the Common App’s 921 member schools reported application declines. Our guess is that those declines are likely in smaller and less selective institutions, especially those with binding admissions processes. The article also notes that Common App data suggest the declines are more acute among first generation and low-income college students. Given the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color and low income communities, these are the very students who, when schools shut down, lacked access to knowledgeable teachers, mentors, and counselors to help them prepare to apply in the early round. This means overall, the applicant pool at top colleges is likely to be less diverse than usual.

We also learn that colleges not requiring test scores “experienced stronger first-year application volume through November 2.” Interestingly, a related article notes that Florida’s public universities which require the SAT or ACT are experiencing a decline of up to 50 percent in applications. As of November 9, all 12 universities in the State University System of Florida still required the SAT or ACT, despite the challenges facing students with closed test centers and canceled tests.

STAY TUNED

Watch our blog for more data as results come into focus for the early decision and early action rounds. Like just about everything else in 2020, we can predict there will be much that is unprecedented.

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College Application SOS

With early admissions deadlines now in the rearview mirror, all high school seniors can breathe a sigh of relief, right? Actually, based on data newly released from Niche.com, 47 percent of all high school seniors have yet to start applying to colleges. The Common Application this week reported an 8 percent decrease in number of applications submitted to date.

What’s behind the delay? Not surprisingly, anxiety is the single biggest reason why students haven’t submitted applications. Niche.com’s data shows that an overwhelming majority (92 percent) of students are feeling fear or anxiety right now with concerns about being able to afford college topping the list.

We also posit that lack of opportunities to visit campuses in person have led many students to feel uncomfortable applying for early admission, especially when binding commitments were required. Also, the Class of 2021 lost important mentoring and support from teachers and counselors in the crucial junior spring when schools went to virtual learning and for most, that has continued throughout the senior fall. 

Is it any wonder we are swamped with requests from students from around the world with questions on how to handle college admissions during the pandemic?

Are you behind on your college applications? Don’t panic — we are here to help with top tips for completing your applications NOW.  Take a deep breath and let’s do this!

BUILD YOUR COLLEGE LIST

Your first step should be to create a realistic list of colleges. Start with an honest self-assessment of your academic record. In real time, admissions officers cite a student’s grades and level of rigor of coursework as core to their assessment of applicants for admission. Even though many schools don’t officially report rank-in-class, there are plenty of hints that admissions officers find in counselor letters, school profiles, Naviance type software, and transcripts. So, where do you think you fall relative to peers? Near the top or more towards the middle?

Next, how would you rate the level of rigor of your curriculum? Have you stretched yourself to take the most challenging courses? How have you sought academic challenge beyond what your school offers? Again, this is what admissions officers are looking for as they read your application and just one of the myriad ways we guide our students in our Application Boot Camp and Private Counseling programs.

Although just about every college has moved to test-optional admissions policies for this current cycle, you can use your test scores to gauge where you fall relative to students who typically enroll at the colleges on your list. Do your SAT or ACT scores lie at or above the 75th percentile for enrolling students? Do your scores fall below the 25th percentile? Are you somewhere in the middle? Match your scores to the data colleges report on their incoming classes to give you a realistic sense of where you would fall if you submitted them.

Do a similar honest self-assessment of your extracurricular impact. How do you think your teachers and counselor would describe you? Leader, high impact, participant, just like everyone else? The more competitive the school, the more you will need to show impact and distinction—both in and out of the classroom.

Finally, as you build your list, recognize that rates of admission at top colleges in the regular round can be excruciatingly low. Create a balanced list with schools where your likelihood of admission is good, along with a handful of realistic “stretch” picks.

CONNECT WITH TEACHERS AND COLLEGE COUNSELORS

Immediately, connect with your teachers and college counselors to ask them to be your recommenders. Most top schools require letters from your counselor and at least one teacher, typically two, so choose teachers from junior year who know you well and talk with them about the schools on your list. Remember, they will be your advocates in the process, so the more you can share about your college aspirations, as well as all you’ve done both in and out of the classroom, will help them write stand-out letters on your behalf.

Also, many college counseling offices will require your finalized list in early December so that they can prepare and submit your transcript and counselor letter by college’s specific deadlines.

GIVE THANKS—AND THEN WRITE YOUR ESSAY

The Thanksgiving holiday is the perfect time to write the Common Application and supplemental college essays, especially since most of us will likely be hunkering down at home during the break.

When it comes right down to it, your main college essay is a 650-word introduction to you as a scholar, a community member, and a potential alumnus/a. This means that the story you tell about yourself must depict you as an academic, someone with strong interests, an inventive mind, and a willingness to pursue your goals.

There are likely plenty of stories in your background that are personally meaningful to you, but that don’t represent you in this particular light. A story about watching reality television with your sister, for example, might capture a family tradition, but it won’t tell us much about your scholarly interests or goals. A narrative about your mother’s immigration to the U.S., too, might show us her ability to overcome difficulties, but it won’t highlight yours.

Rather than focusing on stories that are personally important to you, we recommend that you tell us about moments in your life that highlight your passions, goals, and interests. Tell us about how watching reality TV with your sister inspired your award-winning research project on modern celebrity culture. Tell us about how your mother’s experience coming to the U.S. informed your own passion for immigration reform, which has led you to spend your time campaigning and volunteering with organizations that support migrants.

The stories don’t just give us a window into your life. They give us insights into how you’ve developed and explored your interests in high school — and how you might continue to pursue them at college.

Want more essay tips? Check out our Top Tips for Winning College Essays! Or work with us directly in our College Essay Guidance Program.

CREATE A SUPPLEMENT ‘MAP’

Today, most colleges have two to four supplemental questions (long essays, short responses, lists) in addition to what’s being asked on the Common Application. So, applying to colleges is far from streamlined.

As you approach your supplements, we suggest creating a supplement ‘map’ and categorizing the prompts based on theme. You will quickly notice some patterns emerge! For example, many schools will ask a version of the “Why Essay.” In other words, be prepared to explain what it is you like about their specific scholarly community and how you would contribute to campus life, both in the classroom and elsewhere. Other common supplemental questions include a meaningful extracurricular activity, your potential academic major, your role in a community of your choice, and personal perspectives showing how you would contribute to a diverse college community.

WE’RE HERE TO HELP

Whether you need step-by-step guidance with the ever-tricky Common App or guidance on organizing and crafting your essays, we’re here to help! Our expert editors and writers are at the ready to assist you in putting your best foot forward during the college application process.

For students who have finished their application and want our “review” we have a few more spots available before 12/20/20 in our Application Review Program! Good luck and get writing!

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Early Action and Early Decision Deadlines Looming

An early application is a sure-fire way to boost your chances of admission, especially if you have great grades and top scores that are in range for the schools on your college list. If you’ve read our blog posts and admissions books, you know that your odds go way up when you apply in a binding Early Decision program. Don’t believe us? Just take a look at the early decision stats that we collect and post each year. Your odds of admission were about three times greater if you applied early versus regular to Brown, Columbia, and Duke. At Dartmouth, the early decision admit rate was four times greater.

Although not the case for every early action school, there are certainly clear statistical benefits to applying early action as well.  At Harvard, your chances were five times greater last year if you applied early action than waiting until the regular round. Yale and Notre Dame applicants had more than double the rate of admission if they applied under early action. Overall, keep in mind that early decision gives a much better boost compared to early action across the board – that is the reward for a student willing to commit to a school.

HOOKED VS UNHOOKED

Keep in mind that the reasons the admit rates trend higher in early at top private schools is that applicants with hooks (recruited athletes, legacies, VIP’s, underrepresented minority students) tend to get even more of an admission boost if they apply early. Are you an unhooked applicant? You will still benefit from a more thoughtful review as applicant pools are notably smaller and admissions staffs are not completely overwhelmed with applications to read. Plus you are read against a backdrop of many recruited athletes, legacies and borderline applicants so you may shine brighter against a dimmer background. Overall, regular applicant pools tend to be stronger.

These early deadlines are drawing near so we’ve made it easy for you and listed the specific dates for some top schools. Create your own spreadsheet and get organized. This is a critical time for you, seniors. Leverage the early round and up your odds.

EARLY ACTION & EARLY DECISION DEADLINES

CollegeEarly Deadline(s)
Amherst CollegeED: 11/16/20
Babson CollegeEDI and EA: 11/1/20EDII: 1/2/21
Barnard CollegeED: 11/1/20
Bates CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/1/21
Bentley UniversityED: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/7/21
Boston CollegeEA: 11/1/20; EDII: 1/1/21
Boston UniversityEDI: 11/1/20; EDII: 1/1/21
Bowdoin CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/5/21
Brown UniversityED: 11/1/20
Bryn Mawr CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/1/21
BucknellEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/15/21
CalTechEA: 11/1/20
Carnegie Mellon UniversityED: 11/1/20; EA (juniors) 1/1/21
Claremont McKennaEDI: 11/1/20; EDII: 1/5/21
Colby CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/1/21
Colgate UniversityEDI: 1/15/20; EDII: 1/15/20
Columbia UniversityED: 11/1/20
Connecticut CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/15/21
Cornell UniversityED: 11/16/20
Dartmouth CollegeED: 11/1/20
Dickinson CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/15/21
Duke UniversityED: 11/16/20
Emerson CollegeEDI/EA: 11/1/20
Emory UniversityEDI: 11/1/20 EDII: 1/1/21
Georgetown UniversityEA: 11/1/20
Hamilton CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/1/21
Harvard UniversityREA: 11/1/20
Harvey Mudd CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/5/21
Haverford CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/1/21
Johns Hopkins UniversityED: 11/2/20; EDII: 1/4/21
Middlebury CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/1/21
MITEA: 11/1/20
New York UniversityEDI: 11/1/20; EDII: 1/1/21
Northwestern UniversityED: 11/1/20
Pomona CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/8/21
Rice UniversityED: 11/1/20
Stanford UniversityREA: 11/1/20
SwarthmoreED: 11/15/20; EDII:1/4/21
Tufts UniversityEDI: 11/17/20; EDII: 1/1/21
Tulane UniversityEA: 11/15/20; EDI: 11/1/20
University of ChicagoEA/EDI: 11/2/20; EDII: 1/4/21
University of MichiganEA: 11/15/20
UNC Chapel HillEA: 10/15/20
University of PennsylvaniaED: 11/1/20
University of South CarolinaEA: 10/15/20
University of VirginiaEDI/EA: 11/1/20
Vanderbilt UniversityEDI: 11/1/20 EDII: 1/1/21
Villanova UniversityEA/ED: 11/15/20: EDII: 1/15/21
Washington U. St. LouisEDI: 11/1/20; EDII: 1/2/21
Yale UniversitySCEA: 11/1/20

EARLY DECISION II

Be sure to finalize your Early Decision II and/or Regular round essays and have them locked and loaded in your online application accounts (UC Application, Common App, etc.). We can help you with your application and your essays immediately via our Common App 911 and Essay Guidance packages! Don’t miss the opportunity to leverage yourself, your essays and your application.

YOUR FUTURE, YOUR RESPONSIBILITY

It is your responsibility to ensure every piece of your application has been submitted INCLUDING what your high school is supposed to submit. CHECK the specifics for your early round colleges as policies vary by school and then do your due diligence to ensure all of your ducks are in a row. It’s imperative you stay on top of this important administrative piece to your application. After all, your school won’t get deferred because a document was missing, YOU will.

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Do College Rankings Really Matter?

In September, U.S. News & World Report, the leading authority in college rankings, announced the 2021 U.S. News Best Colleges list. For the 10th straight year, Princeton University has earned the #1 spot, followed by Harvard University and Columbia University. Likewise, on the list of National Liberal Arts Colleges, Williams College has maintained its #1 position, with Amherst College and Swarthmore College coming in at #2 and #3, respectively. Now that prospective students are unable to attend traditional on-campus info sessions and campus tours, rankings carry extra weight as students turn to “expert data” to create their college lists.

HOW MUCH COLLEGE RANKINGS MATTER

This year more than ever, we have been asked how much college rankings really matter. And if, in the past, these rankings have been directly correlated with standardized test scores of accepted students, what are the new metrics that have been used to determine this year’s list as colleges go test-optional? How reliable are these methodologies?

In response to the pandemic’s ongoing disruptions and ripple effect on college admissions, this year’s US News rankings include three new topics: student debt, social mobility, and test-blind admissions policies. For the first time, they have also ranked schools that don’t use the SAT or ACT for the purpose of admissions.

U.S. News has published the updated breakdown of key data used to determine overall rank. The six factors are weighted as follows:

Outcomes (40%, previously 35%)

Its success at retaining and graduating students within 150% of normal time (six years). We approach outcomes from angles of graduation and retention (22%), graduation rate performance (8%), social mobility (5%) and, new this year, graduate indebtedness (5%).

Faculty Resources (20%)

U.S. News uses five factors from the 2019-2020 academic year to assess a school’s commitment to instruction: class size (8%), faculty salary (7%), faculty with the highest degree in their fields (3%), student-faculty ratio (1%) and proportion of faculty who are full time (1%).

Expert Opinion (20%)

Each year, top academics – presidents, provosts and deans of admissions – rate the academic quality of peer institutions with which they are familiar on a scale of 1 (marginal) to 5 (distinguished). We take a two-year weighted average of the ratings. The 2021 Best Colleges ranking factors in scores from both 2020 and 2019.

Financial resources (10%)

This is determined based on average spending per student on instruction, research, student services and related educational expenditures in the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years.

Student Excellence (7%, previously 10%)

The ACT/SAT scores and high school class rank of accepted students.

Alumni giving (3%, previously 5%)

The average percentage of living alumni with bachelor’s degrees who gave to their school during 2017-2018 and 2018-2019.

While this updated breakdown has reduced the weight given to SAT and ACT scores, high school class standing, and alumni donations in response to the shifting admissions landscape, these factors still matter and are a significant part of the raw material that informs the final list. Furthermore, as noted on their website, the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic means that the “current” policies and procedures collected in spring 2020 may have changed since the rankings were determined.

CHANGES IN COLLEGE RANKINGS –BUT NOT ENOUGH

H. Holden Thorp, the Editor-in-Chief of Science, former provost of Washington University in St. Louis, and former chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has publicly called for the suspension of college rankings during this time of crisis. In his article, published in May, he makes his case clear:

“A truly transformative move in this moment of crisis would be to suspend testing requirements and college rankings. This is not a time for undergraduate institutions to be using precious resources to chase these numbers. Rather, they need to support struggling students and other members of the academic community so that education can resume this fall in a manner that is fair to all. Some schools are already making test scores optional for the time being, and hopefully that requirement will never return. Ranking colleges and universities changed higher education, mostly for the worse. Now is the time for institutions to suspend those rankings and, when the crisis is over, bring them back in a more progressive form.”

– H. Holden Thorp, the Editor-in-Chief of Science

Other college rankings, such as the Washington Monthly’s 2020 rankings, have responded to this social pressure. Although they still published their rankings in August, they have made an effort to emphasize diversity and social consciousness in their calculations and approach. As they explain, “It’s our answer to U.S. News & World Report, which relies on crude and easily manipulated measures of wealth, exclusivity, and prestige.” To calculate a college’s commitment to diversity, for example, they use IPEDS data “to measure the percentage of students at each institution receiving Pell Grants, and College Scorecard data to measure the percentage of first-generation students at each school.” For the first time, they have also listed the schools that make sure majors popular with Black students (social work, criminal justice, and sociology) lead to well-paying jobs. See that list here.

Money’s annual Best Colleges for Your Money ranking, published in August, used a methodology based on 27 factors in three categories: Quality of education (30% of weighting), Affordability (40% of weighting), and Outcomes (30% of weighting). In response to the economic outlook this year, they increased the emphasis on affordability. They also added two new net price figures to “capture affordability for students from middle-income backgrounds alongside our existing measure of net price for low-income students.”

Finally, this year’s Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education 2021 rankings consider similar metrics to assess colleges in four areas: Outcomes (salary graduates earn, debt burden they accrue), Resources (the spending schools put into instruction and student services), Engagement (student survey), and Environment (diversity of the community). It is critical to note, however, that, due to the pandemic and shutdown of college campuses, the student survey (20% of the ranking) was canceled for this year. As such, the WSJ/THE rankings use the scores obtained by institutions last year.

THE BOTTOM LINE

In many ways, these rankings will only continue to exasperate the inequities in higher education, made more acute by the ongoing pandemic. While the ranking organizations have made some efforts to add transparency to their process, the data is simply not consistent or dependable at this stage, and a considerable amount of data this year was re-used from the 2019 lists, which did not take into account new admissions procedures or the reality of campus life during COVID-19. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that the rankings are largely the same as years past. While some of the metrics offered by these publications can be useful, they should be consulted with care and some degree of skepticism. For personalized guidance and a winning application strategy that takes into account the ever-shifting landscape in real time, contact us today about our Private Counseling Program or Application Boot Camp.

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Why Early Decision Still Makes Sense for Many Students

Post by: Dr. Michele Hernandez

We’ve had vigorous debates on this blog and with students and parents about the merits of early decision. As a brief primer, both early action and early decision have early November deadlines, but early action is NON binding (you do not have to say “yes”) while early decision is binding (you have to say “yes” and withdraw any other applications). The confusing thing is that HarvardYale, and Stanford have a “single choice/restrictive” early action policy (non-binding but you can only apply to state schools or international schools as back up) while the other five Ivies all have normal early decision. Princeton for this cycle is not doing any early round at all which throws a wrench into the scene.

STATISTICS TELL THE STORY

As you can see from the tables below, early decision acceptance rates are 3 to 4 times higher than regular only acceptance rates while early action acceptance rates are higher, but not by as big a margin with the exception of MIT. The one thing that is indisputable is that regular only admittance rates are super low from 2-3% at Stanford (which didn’t give out exact numbers from this cycle so we are guesstimating) and Harvard to a “high” of 6-7%. Looking at just the numbers, there is a clear advantage to applying early action/early decision at every school. But as many perceptive readers of past posts pointed out, the difference is not quite as sharp because legacies and recruited athletes tend to get accepted in the early decision round so while it may look like Dartmouth takes 26% of ALL early applicants, it is going to be less than that for “non-hooked” applicants. As I will illustrate below, even so, it is worth it to apply early decision to increase your odds. Some argue that early decision can lock you into a financial bind as you cannot compare financial aid packages so is “only for the wealthy.” That is not true because the Ivies bend over backwards to give generous aid packages once they commit to a student and in the worst case scenario, you can be released from the early decision agreement if after you appeal your financial aid award, you still cannot afford it.

REASONS EARLY DECISION STILL MAKES SENSE

  1. Even taking into account legacies and recruited athletes, the acceptance rate is still higher than regular round.
  2. There are MANY fewer applicants in the early round (look at the table below – sometimes 8-10 times fewer in early!) which means your application, essays, teacher recs and materials are read much more carefully and typically by admissions officers rather than outside readers.
  3. Not only are there fewer applicants in early, but with legacies and athletes who tend to be in the lower side academically, truly strong applicants who are academic superstars shine brighter in the early decision round than in the regular round. To say it another way, the regular round is much more competitive with many of the nation’s top students waiting until regular round. The early round overall is weaker because of the recruited athletes and legacies and “reach” applicants.
  4. Applying early decision tells the college that you picked them first – and you love their school and are willing to commit. That means for a student who might be “on the border,” often admissions officers will take that student in early but not in regular. This is demonstrated interest on steroids.
  5. What about getting deferred? Think of it this way, if you were deferred in the early round, you would have been rejected in the regular round, so nothing lost there. Plus, deferred students have a chance to send an update with new grades, awards, scores, etc… and roughly 5-15% of deferred kids (depending on the school) will be accepted during the regular round. The advantage is that the college knows it is your top choice, signaled by the original ED choice.
  6. Finally, with COVID still in the picture, many schools (especially small liberal arts schools) have lost a ton of tuition dollars from last year plus have many added expenses to develop a Coronavirus plan (paying for HEPA filters, more ventilation, etc…). That means that students who don’t need financial aid AND who apply ED will have higher admissions odds this year.
  7. Related to the above, we predict that many liberal arts colleges along with top universities will admit a higher percentage of the class in the ED round to lock in tuition paying students.

MAGIC WANDS

As I’ve argued before, if I could wave my magic wand, I would force all the top colleges to have two rounds of early decision (I and II) but 1- limit the number to perhaps only 30-35% of the total class rather than 50% as U Penn takes now for example) and 2- provide super generous financial aid/grants to students. That way colleges could still reserve 60-70% of the spots for regular round but still give students two rounds to indicate a true first choice. I would eliminate single choice early action so HYPS don’t artificially elevate themselves over the other schools simply based on policy. In a typical year, 20,000 to 25,000 students are deferred or rejected from HYPS, freak out, and then apply to 20-30 schools in regular round. That is why the system is flooded with a ridiculous number of applicants in regular round. Changing the system would reduce that number dramatically. But no school wants to act in a vacuum – they need to join hands and take the plunge all at once to insert some measure of sanity into the process.

IVY LEAGUE — CLASS OF 2024

MIT AND STANFORD — CLASS OF 2024