How the test-optional wave will impact college admissions

Posted by Neal Schwartz on February 25, 2021

how the test-optional wave will impact college admsissions

In the midst of college application season, students are at a critical moment in their lives as they navigate how to apply to college during a pandemic. While financial stress due to lost jobs and a battered economy has burdened those most vulnerable, the newfound leniency at the most competitive colleges and universities has motivated those who previously might not have made the cut. According to a recent article in the New York Times, the result is a wide gap in applications across the board. The most competitive schools are seeing a boom in applications, while less selective schools are struggling to hook applicants. Why is this and what are this trend’s implications on the future of students and college?

 Average students take a shot at the Ivy Leagues

 Because some of the most competitive colleges have been cutting their testing requirements, students that were low test performers are now feeling an increase in confidence. This results in an application boom. The article cites, “The nation’s most-selective four-year institutions, both public and private, saw a record-breaking 17 percent increase in applications this year, according to the Common App. Small liberal arts schools felt a boon, with applications to Haverford and Swarthmore increasing by 16 percent and 12 percent, respectively. So did large state schools like the University of California, Los Angeles, where freshman applications increased 28 percent.”

 With such an increase in application numbers, that could also mean an increase in competition. Whereas in the past a test score might be the factor that determined one student’s admittance over another, the lines are blurrier now. However, just because the SATs and ACTs are no longer required at certain schools, this does not mean that these tests are not helpful to the overall profile of the student.

 These tests were developed and used for years to evaluate concrete skills that students will need to thrive in their college courses, like reading comprehension, grammar and essay organization and math skills. Even despite the current context, there still is a place for testing as well as a holistic approach to application review. To best get a sense of the student’s performance and motivation, these approaches will coincide and operate for the good of the student applicant.

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Topics: College Applications, college admissions, college interview, SAT/ACT, college selection, college counseling, high school senior, high school junior, test optional, college forecast, SUNY, State University of New York, Swarthmore, YPIE, Haverford, UCLA

Will College admissions be more competitive than ever?

Posted by Neal Schwartz on February 04, 2021

Will college admissions be more competitive than ever for 2021-2022 high school graduates?

With application deadlines nearing for some, students and parents have shared a fear that college admissions will become more competitive as a result of the pandemic. A number of factors are contributing to this fear, such as a theoretical increase in international student applicants that were unable to attend US colleges and universities last year, and those taking “gap years” flooding the applicant pool for fall 2021 admission in hopes that the pandemic will “clear.”

On the flip side, financially-strapped families and those who don’t believe that remote learning is worth the extreme financial commitment of college might be hesitating about certain applications. They also might be more heavily considering colleges that are closer to home, to facilitate any potential future problems should another lockdown occur.

From what we’ve seen so far, despite these conflicting factors across populations of students, all indications from many colleges are that they do not expect a boom in applicants for the next couple of years. Some suggest that the reticence of certain families and the risks of others will end up with a balance in the applicant pool.

Starting from last week, some colleges have been releasing information about either the surge or decline in their admissions. According to an article in InsideHigherEd, these statistics can be explained by a variety of reasons.

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Topics: College Costs, College Applications, college admissions, college interview, SAT/ACT, college selection, college counseling, high school senior, virtual tours, high school junior, test optional, college forecast

The mystery behind the college interview

Posted by Neal Schwartz on January 30, 2018


What is the difference between an on-campus interview and an alum interview?

Why doesn’t the school that my daughter is applying to require an interview?

My daughter was just asked to schedule an alum interview? What should they do?

Did she not get in because of her interview?

There are a multitude of questions regarding the interview, and unlike the consistency students, parents, and counselors understand about academics, AP’s and SAT/ACT tests, the interview is a different animal altogether.

Prior to the Common App and the increasing number of college applicants, interviews were expected as a part of the process. Now, with the sheer number of applicants, it is not possible to grant every student an interview on campus. Schools that promote geographic diversity and publish that their current students come from X states and X countries need to offer alum interviews or travel directly to the communities and schools to hold local interviews


Fact #1 - On Campus interviews are limited at most schools

The advantage of the on-campus interview is that demonstrated interest is confirmed somewhat by the trip itself. It may also be possible to meet with the admission rep responsible for the student’s state, county or city. If that occurs, the rep is likely to be in their comfort zone and more able to listen. On the other hand, due to the volume of candidates, the interviewer is not always someone with a salaried position in the admissions department and may not be responsible for that student’s home region, which could be a disadvantage.


Fact #2 - The timing of the interview is important

Due to scheduling, some students may be granted an interview before they submit an application, whereas others may only do so AFTER they submit their application. A student with an earlier interview may not be as practiced and additionally may be less interested than that same student AFTER they have visited other schools and have submitted their application.


Fact #3 - Interviewers may be either a responsible admissions person, an alum or other college representative

The alum interview is the most curious element of the college process, as there are varying degrees of training for the alum. Typically, the alum does not receive their list of interview candidates until AFTER the application is submitted. Due to the complexity of the application, it is standard practice that the alum interviewer only gets the student’s name and contact information and does NOT get to see any data from their application.

Fact #4 - Interviews are either informational or evaluative

This is one fact that is difficult for parents, students and counselors to deal with. In the business world, the winning candidate is usually one who succeeds in the interview. Sometimes, but not always, that is true in the college admissions process. Even when an alum is interviewing a candidate, they are at a severe disadvantage in that they are NOT able to view the student’s complete application, including recommendations, etc. Their role is to evaluate the student’s presentation skills, personality, and strengths, without the other background information. Compare this to the business world where the interviewer almost always has a copy of the resume and other information in front of them. Also, the alum interviewer is not always privy to the directives of what type of candidates the school has or is seeking. Often, only a written report will be submitted and incorporated into the overall file.

When was the last time you went on an informational interview? Were you trying to buy something? Was somebody trying to sell you something? Were you choosing to buy a home? Were you engaged in a conversation to work with a financial advisor or wealth manager? Let’s be clear, think of evaluative as having direct influence on the decision, and informative as merely shopping. The former is made by the college, and the latter is to help the student decide if they have enough information to make a valuable decision.


Fact #5 - Oftentimes the Alum is engaged in the interview process for the Alum’s benefit (not for the student’s)

This point is difficult to swallow, especially for those applying to the top 100 schools in the country. Strong alum connections are one of the reasons that students are attracted to top schools. If you are in the “club,” it can be a huge benefit. “Club” members typically thrive on trusting other club members first. The, “You can’t go wrong by hiring a Princeton Grad,” saying is prevalent in much of our society. But let’s break this down into its elements:

  1. Alums are unpaid volunteers and may have a varying degree of commitment to their interview responsibility.
  2. Although the college will briefly educate alum interviewers, there is a gap in admissions and college knowledge that is not bridged by the college’s efforts.
  3. Getting Alums to interview is one of the best ways for a college to keep them involved and connected. The reason that this matters is that there are parallel efforts with many alums to solicit gifts to the college.
  4. It is not clear what level of impact alum interviews have on the ultimate admissions decision.
  5. Most alum interviewers are NOT given any application information about the student in advance, presenting little ability to engage in anything but a report back to the college
  6. The ultimate decision maker is some combination of the admissions officer responsible for the territory/region and the admissions committee.


Fact #6 - The Cause and Effect of the College Interview is not as clear as the Business Interview

With admit rates at the most competitive schools between 5% and 20% for qualified candidates, it is hard to determine whether the interview was the reason that a student was, or was not, admitted.

Many parents relate their business interview experience to the college interview, but there are some distinctions that should be noted:

Business Interview

  • It is rare that someone would be hired in business unless they had a strong interview
  • Sometimes great interviews do help candidates land jobs.
  • Business Interviews are usually granted after the resume and other information is reviewed.
  • Interview screening is done by those that are not the Business owners

College Interview

  • Not all colleges interview, which begs the question about its overall usefulness.
  • Alums are similar to the non-business owners, (described above), in that they don’t have to live with their decisions.
  • Alums cannot be the decision makers, based on their minor role in the process.


What students should do on their interviews:

  • Be themselves - Be comfortable
  • Demonstrate their passion(s)
  • Learn to listen
  • Ask pointed questions
  • Know the school


Why the interview is still a good thing regardless of the outcome: 

No matter what the outcome, the overall college interview opportunity is huge and should be valued as a gift. The skills practiced within the interviews: contacts that may be established, demonstrations of confidence, poise, integrity, etc. will be helpful for future jobs, internships, graduate school, etc.


If you have a high school student and want to get started on the right path, contact us at 914-273-2353, or visit us at: 


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Topics: college admissions, admission advice, college advice, admission trends, college interview


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