Getting into the Ivies has always been tough, but the pandemic has made access to the schools even more difficult. As many US colleges have opted to make SAT or ACT scores optional over the past two years, the number of applications has skyrocketed, resulting in record-low acceptance rates.
The eight Ivy League universities — Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania and Yale — issued their admissions Thursday night, with some reporting the lowest admission rates in their history.
Harvard’s acceptance rate fell to 3.19%, the lowest since its founding 386 years ago, when a record number of applicants applied for places in the Class of 2026, according to the student newspaper The Harvard Crimson. Yale and Brown also reported record-low acceptance rates, while Columbia was flat, which was a record low at the time. Dartmouth’s rate of 6.24% is up slightly from last year.
Three Ivy League schools have chosen not to share their acceptance rates because they want to downplay their selectivity, according to The Wall Street Journal. But it’s not just these elite colleges that are harder than ever to reach. Many U.S. universities are reporting record-low admission rates this year after switching to test-optional policies during the pandemic that opened the door to a larger pool of applicants.
“Students who would normally pick themselves from the admissions pool — they would look at the average SAT score and not apply — these kids are applying,” Michelle McAnaney, president of college consulting firm The College Spy, told CBS MoneyWatch.
She added: “These are A-students who take hard courses and do well” but may not do well on standardized tests. “You throw your hat in the ring.”
McAnaney said some independent education advisers are also seeing a higher proportion of applicants on the waitlist this year, which may indicate colleges are having a hard time assessing their “returns,” or the percentage of admitted students who end up getting a place in their freshman class.
“For students, it keeps them hanging,” she said. “The pickiest schools are even pickier than they were.”
It’s an issue that transcends Ivy League schools. Other universities that reported record-low acceptance rates this year include Rice University (8.56%) and Tufts (9%). Many universities also reported record numbers of applications, from the University of Virginia to the University of Pittsburgh.
Back to the SATs
At least one reputable university is waiving policies for optional testing after trying this approach during the pandemic, when many students have struggled to schedule SAT or ACT exams due to cancellations and COVID-related disruptions.
MIT said March 28 it will again require SAT or ACT scores, noting that the tests help the university determine if applicants are academically prepared.
The tests “also help us identify socioeconomically disadvantaged students who lack access to advanced coursework or other enrichment opportunities that would otherwise demonstrate their readiness for MIT,” Stu Schmill, MIT’s dean of admissions, wrote in a blog post about the decision. “We believe that a requirement is fairer and more transparent than a test-optional policy.”
Other universities, such as Boston University, are expanding their policies for optional testing or removing testing from their admissions process altogether. The 10 schools that make up the University of California announced last year that they would no longer use SAT and ACT scores in their admissions process. In February, the school announced it had a record number of applicants for the 2022-2023 school year, adding that socioeconomic diversity had increased sharply.
Overall, the admissions process remains strained for students and their families, but McAnaney noted that most US colleges accept the majority of students who apply.
“The problem is that people look at the rankings — same top 30 to 50 colleges — and they think of all those colleges,” she said. “If you look outside of them, there are wonderful hidden gems.”