The world of college admissions has been getting unprecedented media coverage in 2019, as federal investigators uncovered illegal schemes to bribe or cheat a student’s way into college.
However, for the vast majority of applicants, this admissions cycle was business as usual. Competition remained fierce, especially among brand-name colleges, as old favorites continued to draw a disproportionate number of applicants.
The trend toward a more humanistic applicant remained consistent. Nonetheless, there was one notable change in the year’s application data, and this change marks a long-awaited piece of good news for future college applicants.
In 2019, every UC campus except UC San Diego and UC Merced saw drops in application volume for the first time in over a decade.
This is significant news because the UCs had continued to witness steep drops in admit rates and rise in application volumes year in and year out, putting greater pressure on the public-school-bound college applicant.
(While this is good news for most, it does not apply to engineering and computer science majors, who have seen little relief in the 2019 admissions cycle.)
A small number of high-profile schools saw drops in application volume and/or higher admit rates as well. Notably…
Princeton University and Cornell University received approximately 2000 fewer applications than it had the previous year, resulting in a slightly higher admit rate.
Among top ten schools, M.I.T. also saw a drop of a few hundred applications, although its admit rate continued to drop by a fraction of a percentage.
Other name-brand private universities continued to demonstrate the trend toward greater competitiveness that had persisted in recent years: more applicants, lower admit rates. (Most noticeably, USC continues to surge in popularity. Its 2019 admit rate of 11% is a historic low for the university.)
However, industry experts are paying close attention to the turn toward higher admit rates demonstrated by schools like Princeton, Cornell, and the UC’s in particular, wondering if this might signal the start of an easing of admissions pressures.
What does this mean for you?
While such data is compelling for industry experts, the average applicant will not be able to discern a significant difference in his or her application experience.
The college admissions process will most likely continue to demonstrate trends that had become apparent over the past few years: a greater focus on character and service, a lesser focus on academic numbers and personal achievement.
It is likely that this emphasis will continue to govern admissions decisions in the near future, as admissions scandals in the news have exposed how numbers (an SAT score, a transcript) can be manipulated and falsified. Letters of recommendation will continue to play a bigger role, because they offer third-party validation of a student’s character and a more three-dimensional perspective on aspects of a student’s resume.
A demonstration of “good character” will likely remain a touchstone in a student’s application, as recent controversies have shown what can result when ambition and an unmitigated desire for success are not moderated by a core set of values.
These preferences are not news in college admissions
Many institutions have been adjusting their admissions policies as the college admissions landscape continues to experience great pressures from outside forces.
Consider the changes to the SAT in 2016, designed to create a more inclusive and contemporary test; the Making Caring Common Project, in which Harvard educators advocated an admissions policy that emphasized kindness over achievement; the affirmative action lawsuit brought against Harvard University by Asian-American applicants; and the recent scandals exposing bribery and fraud and collusion in the admissions process.
While such changes may seem largely unrelated, they have resulted in a remarkably consistent solution in the admissions office: admissions officers continue to look for applicants that have something more than an impressive resume and a perfect transcript. They are looking for applicants of good character.
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