Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, college counselors across the globe have predicted that coronavirus would indeed change the college admissions game... and indeed it has (and not necessarily for the better).

The changes that the pandemic are having on college admissions are no longer a prediction or assumption, it's reality. Given that early admissions decisions have all been made by now, many schools have released their early admissions statistics and they reveal the truth about going to college in 2021, 2022 and even 2023 - the COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly making it more difficult to gain admission to an elite college in the US.

Across the board, the number of total applicants is the highest it's ever been in history. Almost every elite college has reported the skyrocketed application numbers. Yale University saw an increase of 38% in applications since January 2020, Emory University saw a 19% increase in this year's applicant pool, and Harvard University saw a whopping 57% increase in applications.

A larger pool of applicants equals more competition for the same number of spots available from year to year. We see this being reflected in early action acceptances rates like Harvard's that sunk to 7.4% this year in comparison to last year's 13.9%. To make matters worse, roughly 350 admitted Harvard students of the Class of 2024 have deferred enrollment to the Class of 2025, which means there are even less spots available than usual. And it's not only Harvard, other highly selective schools like University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College and Brown University.

Penn's acceptance rate for early applicants declined from 20% in 2019 to 15% this recent round. Penn usually sees about 50 deferrals each year, however 200 spots of the Class of 2025 have gone to accepted students of the Class of 2024.

Dartmouth experienced a 29% increase in applications this year, but only accepted 21%, with 172 of the Class of 2025 spots going to accepted students from the Class of 2024.

Brown accepted a record-low of 15.9% of early applicants, even though nearly 1000 more students applied in 2020 than in 2019.

Across the US, it is estimated that a quarter of 2021-2022's freshman class has already been accounted for by students who were to commence in Fall 2020 but chose to defer. When you combine that with the fact that many of these once test-centric schools have all gone "test optional", there was bound to be an obvious increase in applicant interest but a decrease in the number of seats available for them.

Additionally, the election of President Biden has proven to change many international students' minds about studying in the US (in comparison to the interest during the Trump administration). Many colleges have reported a spike in international student inquiries since November 2020, particularly from Hong Kong and Singapore.

Although this is the case for many of the highly selective elite private colleges and large public schools, many colleges across the US are seeing a decrease in applications. The Common App reported that there has been a 2% decrease in the number of persons filling out applications for undergraduate admission. It is to be noted though that international applicant volume rose by 11%. Fewer students are also completing FAFSA forms than ever before.

The coronavirus pandemic has understandably postponed many high school seniors' plans to pursue their undergraduate degree, whether it be due to uncertainty, healthy or financial restraints. While America's most elite institutions are rejecting students, the majority of schools are desperate to fill seats and cover expenses.


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Author: TJ Chung
TJ Chung is AIM's "essay guru" and has been editing college essays for the past 3 years. She has helped many students showcase their best selves through essays to get to the school of their dreams.
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