Vassar students have had a tough year, and so have many prospective students who hoped for a spot in the college’s Class of 2025. On March 31, Vassar notified those in the regular decision round of their admission status. For administrators and students alike, COVID-19 triggered an especially competitive and grueling year of the college admissions process.
According to Dean of Admissions and Financial Services Sonya Smith, Vassar received 10,884 first-year applications this year, a record high number and a 25 percent increase from last year. The admission rate this year was 19 percent, down from 24 percent last year. Smith explained the school won’t know how their yield rate shifted until students accept their offers.
Competitive colleges all over the country reported a similar increase in applications this application cycle. According to the Common App, the nation’s most selective four-year private and public institutions saw an average increase of 17 percent this year. Other liberal arts colleges like Haverford and Swarthmore saw jumps in applications of 16 percent and 12 percent, respectively.
Selective institutions saw their applications spike during the pandemic because most schools, including Vassar, went standardized test optional, meaning students could choose whether to submit ACT or SAT scores. This was meant to accommodate interruptions in local testing and grading policies for high school students due to the pandemic. Without having to submit test scores, many students widened their college search.
While top-ranked schools saw their admissions pool increase, less competitive institutions saw a devastating drop in admissions amid already mounting financial problems. The State University of New York (SUNY), which is the largest public school system in the country, saw admissions fall by 14 percent this year.
Admissions officers across the country expressed concern about how to evaluate an increased pool of applicants, all while considering the conditions of the pandemic and the absence of test scores—and, in many cases, gaps in junior year transcripts and a lack of available extracurriculars during the pandemic. “We’ve always had a holistic application review process and that did not change,” commented Smith. “We know many students didn’t have access to the same opportunities that they have had in the past, many had to care for others or had their own challenges, and many schools temporarily changed their grading policies,” she explained.
Smith was a signatory on a statement released by the Making Caring Common Project organized by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which was directed towards high school students and outlined how admissions officers would take the pandemic into account when evaluating applicants. “We are keenly aware that students across the country and the world are experiencing many uncertainties and challenges. We primarily wish to underscore our commitment to equity and to encourage in students self-care, balance, meaningful learning, and care for others,” the statement reads. The document also explains that schools will evaluate transcripts, extracurriculars and test scores in the context of the pandemic.
Some shifts in admissions policy may become permanent. Many schools have announced they will become completely test optional. Vassar has extended the policy for the next two admissions years, continuing until the 2022/23 admissions cycle.
Even with the uncertainty of next fall, students are excited to begin their time on Vassar’s campus. Vassar posted a welcome message to new students, who expressed enthusiasm in the comments.