Seniors experience historic competition in college applications

Selective colleges experience an influx in applications, lowering acceptance rates

Tyler Lunn, Staff Writer

In the last year, COVID-19 has affected almost every facet of high school life, and one such change was the college admissions process experienced by the Class of 2021.

This year saw many colleges decide to go the test-optional route, or even to do away with them entirely. The University of California and California State University systems chose not to include SAT or ACT scores in their admissions process.

Several reasons were cited for these changes, including a desire to make college more accessible toward those with financial need or physical disabilities that might make taking such tests more difficult.

As a result of removing standardized tests from the admissions process, students were forced to rely largely on their GPAs and extracurricular activities to get accepted to schools. The decision by many colleges to not use these tests came later in the year, giving many students little time to prepare for the altered application expectations.

The removal of standardized testing encouraged many students to apply to more selective schools that they may have struggled to get into otherwise. This led to increased applications nationwide, especially among the Ivy League and UC schools.

In 2020, roughly 88,000 incoming freshmen applied to UC Berkeley, while almost 113,000 students applied in 2021, representing a 28 percent increase, according to Berkeley News. If Berkeley admits the same number of students this year as they did last year, it would result in the acceptance rate falling from 17.6 percent to 13.7 percent. The university has not released admissions data for 2021 yet.

The Harvard Admissions and Financial Aid office found that Harvard received 40,248 applications in 2020 and 57,435 applications in 2021, a 30 percent increase. As a result, Harvard’s admissions rate fell from 4.9 percent in 2020 to 3.4 percent in 2021, according to

Some CSUs were also affected. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (SLO) experienced an increase in applications from 52,373 in 2020 to 54,556 in 2021. Cal Poly SLO accepted fewer students in 2021 than the previous year, causing its acceptance rate to fall from roughly 33.9 percent in 2020 to 30.5 percent this year, according to Cal Poly SLO’s first year student profile.

But not all colleges saw the same changes. This year, many less-selective colleges even saw significant drops in their applications. The State University of New York (SUNY) system experienced a 20 percent drop in the number of applications received, according to Jim Malatras, the Chancellor of SUNY.

Some community colleges have also experienced a drop in enrollments for next year, such as those of the California Community College system, which experienced an 11 percent drop in enrollments, according to Edsource.

As a result of COVID, many students were also unable to visit the college campuses they were applying to, making the decision of where to attend more difficult. 

Without visiting colleges, it was difficult for me to know if I would like a campus or not,” said senior Kara Lee, who is planning on attending University of Hawaii at Mānoa.

While some of the changes, such as the removal of standardized testing, are predicted to remain in the future, how different the application process will be for future classes remains to be seen.