MAY 2021
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College Admissions Changes – This Year and Next

By Robert LeVine

For the better part of last year, we discussed and opined about how COVID and other imperatives would alter student opportunities for college. When we finally observed the college results in March and April, the predictions felt real, but things turned out very much as we expected. As we look towards this year’s season, and even the year after that, we see different trends approaching.

First, let’s take a look back.

In 2020, related events obviously affected student opportunities: Covid-19 and the advance of test optional policies. Not having to submit SAT, ACT or Subject Test scores increased the number of applications by 30-40 percent at most colleges. Within college admissions offices, not having standardized test scores removed a useful data set from consideration. Together, those two “side effects” of test-optional policies delayed many admissions decisions and raised applicant competition in new ways.

But the online learning required by Covid-19 and the health concerns of so many students and families created an even greater effect: a tremendous increase in students deferring their college enrollment for one year. In record numbers, students from the high school class of 2020 decided not to start college right away. Gap year requests increased, on average, by a factor of three. Thus, when the high school class of 2021 came looking for places to enroll, many of their spots were already taken by the class of 2020.

Seeing fewer acceptances per applicant (and many more wait list results), we reviewed our students’ work and discovered an obvious factor: quality of application essays determined student results. However, when discounting how Personal Statements, Activities Lists and Recommendation Letters could not have explained the results – they are sent universally to every college without change – we looked at our students’ Supplemental Essays. Voila! When students wrote amazing essays, they achieved amazing results. Pretty good essays often led to the wait list, while average essays invariably resulted in rejections.

Nobody – and I mean nobody – writes amazing essays every time. UCA tries to guide you in terms of the order in which you write your essays, the timing and schedule within which you write, and of course the content and voice of your essays. Please pay attention to these instructions. Remember that “why do you want to attend our school” is a very difficult topic, one for which you know little about the school while the admissions reader knows everything about their place. One of our students was rejected by almost every school for which he wrote a “why” essay, but accepted at every school that did not require that prompt. The sole exception? USC, for which he wrote an extraordinary “why” essay along with several other essays that rounded out a brilliant presentation.

So, the high school class of 2021 endured the most difficult admissions year in history. What challenges does the class of 2022 face?

We foresee two issues for this year’s admissions class. First, with SAT and ACT test dates no longer being universally cancelled because of Covid-19, admissions officers will be faced with “apples and oranges” evaluations. Unlike last year, in which many, many students had no test scores to report, this year many students will report their scores, while others will choose not to report. Therefore, strategy concerning which schools YOU will provide your test scores, and which schools you should not, can make the difference between acceptance and rejection. That decision is going to be complicated, so let us guide you with individualized strategy.

Second, because so many high schools closed because of Covid-19, and because so many extracurricular activities were cancelled, the Activities Lists (application resumes) for this year’s class will look very different than normal. How those lists are written will be more critical than ever. If you have not done so already, begin a log-type document and collect the specifics and details of what you have been doing. That will help you immensely in writing those very spartan (40-word) descriptions within the Activities List.

For the Class of 2023, we see a different change. Because College Board eliminated its Subject Tests in favor of more emphasis on AP exams, there will be … more emphasis on AP exams! Your AP results will take the place of your Subject Test results in college considerations. As a result, UCA is instituting new support strategies for AP classes. Contact us for further information.

Let’s do this!

Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit


In Defense of the (Pandemic Era) Teenager

By Anu Varma Panchal

With my daughters turning 16 and 13 this year, we are firmly in the middle of what we had been told to dread: The Teen Years.

We were warned about the backtalk, the escalating car insurance, the resistance to authority, the mood swings, the deplorable hygiene and all sorts of frightening, rebellious behavior. Is it all true? Perhaps — on a sliding scale and depending on the individual child — but this year of all years, I think the much-maligned teenager needs a break.

The pandemic has posed challenges for every age group, but teenagers may have suffered some of the worst social losses. At a time in their life when they are supposed to be spreading their social wings and hanging out with peers, they are cooped up at home, missing proms, graduations, performances and entire sports seasons.

Our teenagers are navigating all the awkwardness of e-learning — trying to connect with teachers and students they may have never met in person and working up the nerve to ask a question into a monitor full of foreheads and ceiling fans. We complain that they’re glued to screens all day long, but how can they not be, when everything from school to piano to seeing friends now has to happen on a phone or laptop? We complain that they are always in their rooms, but where else can they go to get their own space?

They are juggling hard classes, competitions, college applications and dorm life in a completely altered landscape. Some are even caring for siblings or working while trying to zoom school —often with little grace from a system that has not backed down on expectations despite the fractured nature of the school year. And they’re doing this without any of the social rites of passage that would normally ease the way. As my daughter told me: “It’s all the hard parts of school without any of the fun.”

Despite this, many of the teens I know are trying to change the world. They are smart, informed and interested. They use social media to fundraise and spread awareness of political, social justice and environmental causes, and take to streets and boardrooms to advocate. They are so much more accepting of people different from them than I remember being at that age, and quick to correct assumptions and protect and speak up for others.

Are they sometimes strident? Yes, but remember when you were 15 or 16? No feelings are as intense as the ones you have in the grips of an adolescent brain and body. If you have teen girls, there’s extra expectation of drama — but beware the underlying misogyny behind interpreting a girl expressing her feelings as “drama.” How many women out there like having their anger or sadness dismissed as an overreaction? I’ll take their strong emotions over jaded sullenness or adult cynicism any day.

That’s not to say you won’t bump heads about everything from school to fashion. My sweet child who let me put bows in her hair now scorns my sartorial suggestions, and I have learned that it is better for my peace of mind to not open her closet door. I am appalled by some of her music choices, yet also humbled by the realization that I have arrived at an age where my child recognizes more people at the Grammys than I do. It’s tough to resist the temptation to launch into a lecture or recite a to-do list each time I get a rare sighting of a teenager in the living room, but not wanting them to vanish back into their rooms for another six hours, I try and force myself to just listen instead.

So, to those of you with younger kids: While the teen phase may test your patience to the max, it’s a beautiful thing to watch your children go through this complicated process of figuring out who they are. They are test-driving a more grown-up version of themselves that they will soon be launching into the world. It can be hard because it forces you to replace the idealized version of the child you thought you had with the reality of who they are turning out to be. But it is such fun, and also a privilege to see them growing into themselves and to be alongside them for the ride. And as for the future? It’s in excellent hands.

Anu Varma Panchal is a mother of two and owner of

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