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More Seniors Opt for Early Decision as COVID-19 Causes College Acceptance Rates to Plummet

Fiona Shuldiner, Grade 11, Staff Writer


The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all areas of life for high school students, from having to adjust to remote learning to maintaining mental health during quarantine. In addition to dealing with difficulties brought on by the pandemic, high school seniors, including those at the High School of American Studies, must tackle the college application process. Over the past few years, this process has changed significantly due to the pandemic.

In the 2020-2021 college admissions cycle, acceptance rates at many elite universities fell to record lows. Ivy League universities and other institutions of similar caliber are a typical choice for HSAS applicants. Students spend their four years of high school working towards acceptance to one of these highly selective schools.

The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed the college admissions landscape. Many colleges adopted test-optional policies as SAT and ACT administrations were canceled during the pandemic. Even as testing centers began opening up, most schools, including the most elite universities, maintained their test-optional policies for the 2021-2022 admissions cycle.

Many students welcomed the change, as standardized tests have long been criticized for denying low-income students access to elite universities. “Test-optional gave students the deserved chance to try for more established schools without having to worry about test scores or finding a testing location,” said Chloe Metz, a senior at HSAS.

Declining acceptance rates accompanied the adoption of test-optional policies in the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. Admissions pools greatly increased as more students thought they could gain admission to top universities without having to submit a test score. Yale University’s acceptance rate, for example, fell from 6.54 percent for the Class of 2024 to just 4.62 percent for the Class of 2025.

After observing last year’s statistics, it seems that many HSAS students, intimidated by the low admissions rates, decided to apply early in larger numbers. Early Decision has a smaller pool of applicants and often involves binding decisions, and therefore tends to have higher acceptance rates. Senior Fiona O’Reilly chose to apply to her top school Early Decision, but the factor of increased security in such a stressful time ultimately pushed her to eliminate other options in favor of it. “If you don’t apply Early Decision, you won't get in anywhere,” O'Reilly recalled hearing as advice.

College applications are always a stressful process and have been getting more and more competitive in recent years, regardless of the pandemic. Acceptance rates are going down, and due to the test-optional adjustment, added weight has been placed on other components of the application like essays and extracurriculars. Increased competition among students creates a stressful environment at HSAS and puts a lot of pressure on seniors. O’Reilly said students recognize that they are in direct competition with each other. “Every assignment is multiplied by 10 because it feels like it carries the weight of your whole future,” Metz added.

As many schools roll out their first round of decisions, some acceptance rates have continued to decline, while others have actually increased. Duke University’s early acceptance rate rose from 17 percent to 21 percent after receiving over 1000 fewer applications than the previous year.

The true effect of the pandemic on this year’s college admissions remains to be seen. Statistics from the Regular Decision round may provide a better picture of the new college admissions landscape.

College application season has begun at HSAS, and the pandemic has impacted the way many students are going about the process.

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