You can’t fault the elite colleges for the pandemic or the reaction of high school seniors to the problems the virus has caused. Applying to college is a much-derided process in normal years and like many areas of society, the pandemic has thrust it squarely onto the stage of public opinion. Confusion was replaced with panic as families scrambled to be first in line at more colleges to lock in an acceptance letter from a coveted school and secure bragging rights among their circle of friends.
The number of early-decision applications at Ivy League schools increased by an average of 36%. This is in stark contrast to the struggles of most colleges that are not considered, “elite”. Any reasonable person would expect that such increases meant that college applications were up across the board, but that is not the case. Even though 6% more Common Applications were submitted at the same time last year, 2% fewer students submitted those applications.
Anyone familiar with the term, “yield” as it applies to college applications knows that colleges accept more applicants than it can actually accommodate in order to guarantee the desired size of their freshman class. When fewer seniors begin submitting more applications, the formulas designed to deliver the appropriate yield become less accurate. Missing that target yield by a significant amount in either direction can cause waves of problems across the entire campus.
When we broaden our view beyond the confines of the college campus, what are the reasons that we have seen a 2% drop in the number of seniors applying to colleges. It could be as benign as fewer seniors graduated this year, but it could also mean that families who knew that financing college would be a stretch gave up when the pandemic caused additional hardship. The latter would virtually deny another generation of underrepresented students the ability to enjoy the rewards of higher education. A trend supporting that the decrease in applications came from underrepresented populations is the sharp decline in the number of a federal financial aid applications submitted.
No matter what your financial situation; if you are a bright teen, I encourage you to pursue some sort of certification or degree after graduation from high school. The effects of the pandemic will decrease over time but denying yourself an education will have a negative impact on your earning potential and the lives of your future family members.