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The Student Newspaper of MAST Academy, since 1991.
The Student News Site of MAST Academy

The Beacon

The Beacon

A new era for college admissions

The 2021 college admissions cycle was unprecedented, expectations and presuppositions shattered like never before. With the advent of Covid-19, many were quick to assert their 2020-2021 admissions predictions and hot takes back in August.

Ashley Munoz, MAST senior, was quick to comment on these supposed predictions and her college process on the whole. Heading to the University of South Florida, she plans to major in Biology with a concentration in Animal Science.

“Everybody thought that it would be [a more competitive college admissions cycle]. Due to the lack of the test score requirement, people just assumed there would be more applicants,” Munoz said.

Munoz also doubled down on this year’s overall instability, describing how that too factored into her decision making.

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“I applied to a couple schools out of state, but it generally did not make sense for me personally. Staying in-state made financial sense, even with a full-ride to the University of Hawaii—Manoa, being a military dependent and having bright futures. Regardless, USF and Tampa felt like home.”

While the virus turned our collective world upside down, the predictions seemingly made sense. Many were espoused ad nauseam (per usual), oddly cloaking the admissions cycle with assured uncertainty. It almost felt as though the predictions—although not facts—grounded people in a year of such turmoil and variability.

That was, until preliminary statistics were released. From December through February, following the end of most early decision and early action rounds, predicted trends had been entirely squashed. And now, in the aftermath of regular decisions and the close to this year’s college admissions cycle, we are able to get a full glimpse at everything we didn’t see coming.

Most presumed that applications to colleges across the board would go down in light of financial troubles felt by many during this Covid era. Turns out the opposite was true: this year saw more applications than ever to 4-year universities. Subsequently, acceptance rates essentially across the board fell (some rather dramatically), especially at the top-ranking universities.

The only spaces which saw a fall in applications were community colleges and 2-year institutions. This was most likely a combination of the financial woes for low-income families (making a 2-year college education less worthwhile) and increased applications to 4-year universities, caused by the unilateral dropping of the standardized testing requirement.

The collective decision of the majority of universities to drop their standardized testing requirement held a telling, significant impact this application season, as students who do not generally tend to test well had an equal opportunity of being admitted to the same institutions as those with superb scores. Students with higher SAT or ACT scores who would generally be admitted in a normal application cycle were faced with slimmer chances as the application pool got larger and as admissions offices considered other qualifying factors more than test scores.

Many colleges have decided to drop their test score requirement with the advent of COVID-19, drastically altering the terrain of college admissions. (Photo courtesy of NPR)

The dropping of the standardized test score requirement led to more students overall taking a chance in applying to the more selective institutions, thus causing a spike in applications to the most competitive universities in the nation. This sudden decrease in acceptance rates among 4-year universities is guaranteed to affect the U.S. News & World Report’s annual national college ranking as well. The report plays a major role in the patterns of following application seasons, as hopeful students often refer to it as a guide of which institutions are the “best,” generally based upon their selectivity.

While such rankings are important in creating a college list, it is not always the deciding factor. Senior Nathaniel Gordon had an extensive college admissions journey, applying to twenty institutions. Gordon had a plethora of schools to choose from in the end, including Emory University, Cornell University, University of Chicago, Dartmouth College, and more. With each of these being highly ranked institutions, it all came down to school culture and finances for Gordon.

“What I would have owed UChicago after four years was half of what I would end up owing Dartmouth after four years. I’m really considering going to grad school after, so it would be helpful paying as little money as I can now,” Gordon said.

While finances were a huge factor, school culture truly turned the tides in favor of UChicago for Gordon.

“I also went onto the GroupMe’s and Discords for both colleges and I really enjoyed the vibe at UChicago. The people in those group chats were so nice! They gave me really good advice, and I felt like I was surrounded by my people. I am confident that I will really enjoy it there,” Gordon said.

From SAT/ACT uncertainty to not being able to visit campuses, the 2020-2021 college application season was full of surprises. Despite the hurdles many have had to leap over, the class of 2025 was outstanding in their persistence at reaching this new chapter in life.

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