Expert Admissions hosted a webinar to discuss the 2022-23 college application cycle and changing trends in admissions and standardized testing. Leslie Singer of Brown Harris Stevens moderated the discussion between EA’s Dr. Bari Norman and Tutor Associates’ Sasha DeWind. We answered questions about test-optional policies, the new SAT, what makes a standout college application, and more. Keep reading for highlights from the conversation, and watch the webinar above.
Responses to Common Concerns
Legacy Admissions: We’ve started to see schools move away from considering legacy status in admissions. State schools have been doing so for quite a while, but recently, more highly selective private institutions have also eliminated legacy admissions. These include Amherst, Johns Hopkins, and MIT.
Selecting a Major: Whether you apply undecided or declare a major often makes little difference. However, there are a few things you should consider. First, many schools will ask for a supplemental essay on an academic interest, regardless of whether you’ve specified a major on your application. You’ll need to be able to speak about your academic interests with real depth.
You’ll also need to consider whether the school you’re applying to admits by major (or by undergraduate college). Depending on the school, some majors may be more competitive. For example, undergraduate business programs often have lower admit rates than other programs at the same university. If you’re considering business, or another competitive major, you’ll need to ask yourself how important your choice of major is to you. Would you rather major in business, regardless of where you go? Or would you rather go to a specific school and select a different major?
Tips for Success: If your academic rigor, GPA, and test scores are in the range you need, the factors that will make the biggest difference toward a successful application are fit and engagement.
In your college applications, the only opportunity you have to speak for yourself is in your essays. Students often treat supplemental essays as an afterthought, but that’s a mistake. When colleges ask their own questions, it’s because they care about the answer. This is a chance to tell colleges more about yourself, including demonstrating that you’re a great fit for their campus. It’s important that your supplemental essays are truly tailored to each school (and that involves more than just changing the name of a class or professor).
It’s also important to let colleges know what matters to you. Your extracurricular involvement isn’t just about what you’ve done, but how you’ve done it, and crucially, what you’ve gotten out of it. You don’t have to do anything spectacular that no one has done before, but whatever you do should be thoughtful and intentional. If your heart isn’t in what you’re doing, that’s going to come through in the essays. If you participate in activities that you really care about, your essays will be deeper and more personal.
Early Decision/Early Action Admissions Data
We’ve seen some interesting data from the early application round this year. Of particular note are statistics out of Brown University, which saw a 10% increase in early decision applications over last year in its early pool and denied 67% of ED applicants. Brown only deferred 19% of early applicants and admitted 13%. Compare this to Harvard, where 7.6% of early applicants were admitted, only 9.5% were denied, and 78% were deferred.
While the flood of denials from Brown may seem harsh, it’s actually much kinder for students. When schools deny applicants rather than defer an inevitable denial to the regular decision round, those students can move on. It’s strategically important for students considering applying in the second round of early decision, and it lets those students focus on getting excited about the other schools on their lists.
Early decision applications were up at many schools, including Brown (10%), Dartmouth (14%), Duke (20%), Northeastern (38%), and UVA (22%). Tufts received 6% more applications in the early decision round compared to last year, up 37% over the last three years. Similarly, Yale has seen a 35% increase in applications since the start of the pandemic.
It should be noted that some schools have decided not to release admit rate data. These schools include Columbia, Cornell, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford.
Encouragingly, several highly selective schools had higher early admit rates this year than last, including Boston College, Boston University, Georgetown, MIT, Northeastern, Vanderbilt, and Washington University in St. Louis.
SAT or ACT?
As in previous years, schools truly have no preference whether applicants take the ACT or the SAT. Students, however, should definitely have a preference–it’s best to take diagnostics and decide if you’ll take the ACT or the SAT (not both) sometime in your sophomore year. Once you’ve made the decision, you can begin preparing for the test.
In terms of when to sit for the SAT or ACT, it really depends on the student. Students typically test between fall of junior year and fall of senior year. When choosing your test date, consider factors like how much time you’ve had to prepare and what your schedule is like in terms of academics and extracurriculars. Test on a date when you’ll be at the top of your game, and don’t feel pressured if you see your friends testing earlier. Importantly, once you’ve achieved a “good-enough” score, stop testing and focus your energies on other aspects of your application portfolio.
Test-optional Admissions for 2022-2023
After some years of pandemic-related volatility, initial results suggest that college admission rates are becoming more predictable again. When it comes to test-optional admissions, patterns showing the relationship between applicants who are submitting scores and admit rates are evening out. This predictability is a good thing because it helps with creating application strategies.
Test-optional admissions policies have created narrower test score ranges at highly selective colleges, as evidenced by Duke’s early admissions data. The middle 50% range for admitted students’ SAT/ACT scores has increased to 1510-1570 and 34-36 respectively. Since schools went test-optional, applicants have been submitting scores at the upper range of the previous year’s score range. This has pushed the middle 50% of scores up at many schools.
The data is showing that admitted students are more likely to have submitted scores. For example, at Duke, while 60% of early applicants submitted scores, 70% of admitted students submitted test scores. But remember that reporting scores can work to your benefit–or not–depending on the schools on your list. At the end of the day, it’s better not to report too-low test scores to highly selective schools.
If you’re a perfect fit for a particular school, not submitting scores shouldn’t impact their decision. Likewise, high test scores will not get you admitted to a selective school where you’re not a good fit. Grades, extracurriculars, and essays will make more of a difference than test scores.
How are scores reported?
On the Common App, most schools will let you self-report your standardized test scores. This means manually entering your highest scores for either the SAT or the ACT. For the SAT, you’ll enter in your highest verbal and math scores (across test dates). For the ACT, you’ll enter in your highest English, Reading, Math, and Science scores across test dates, as well as your highest single composite score. You do not report your superscore on the Common App—only the best individual section scores. If a college superscores, they’ll compute it on their end.
If you’re not familiar with the term, a “superscore” is a score that’s calculated by mixing and matching your highest scores on different subject tests across different test dates. It’s done more often for the SAT than the ACT, though many colleges will superscore the ACT (check each school’s policy!).
Deciding how—and if—to report scores can get tricky, and that’s where the strategy comes in. Students should aim to have a concise testing portfolio, meaning they should test when they’re truly ready to achieve their highest possible scores across just a few test dates.
The New SAT
For US students, the SAT is going digital in the spring of 2024, with a rollout of a new PSAT this fall. The biggest change to the SAT is the new adaptive format. What this means in practice is that each section of the SAT will have two modules, and how you do on the first module will affect what you’ll be given in the second module. So, what do these changes to the SAT mean for you?
If you’re a current junior, you should be in good shape to continue on the testing plan you’ve already set out for yourself. Whether you’ve been focused on the ACT or SAT, you should be finished testing before the changes to the SAT are implemented.
The biggest impact falls to those students who are currently sophomores. If you want to take the current SAT, you’ll have this year to complete it. Most students will need more time to prepare and won’t finish testing until their junior spring or senior fall. It’s advisable at this point to take a close look at the ACT because it will be as predictable as ever. The ACT isn’t changing, there are abundant test prep materials, and tutors have thoroughly analyzed it to be able to coach students well.
Current ninth graders, you can give it some time. See what the testing landscape looks like in your sophomore year, and then you can start to consider which test feels best to you.
For more details on all the topics we covered, watch the webinar recording at the top of the page.