What to expect when you’re expecting

Joy Donovan dives into the challenge of modern college admissions, and argues that the process must be made easier and more fair for students.

470 kids in the senior class, 76 reported commitments. It’s nearly April, and the majority of the class of ’23 are left in the tumultuous limbo that is college acceptances. Unsurprising to anyone who had to submit a Common App or fill out a Self-Reported Academic Record earlier this school year, college applications are, to say the absolute least, emotionally intensive. Even for athletes that committed in years prior, colleges still taunt them with acceptance like a carrot over their heads. Sure, it’s unlikely that a school will rescind their offer–but hey, if you get below a B- on that midterm, you might want to cross your fingers. Though many kids will opt for gap years, technical schools, enlistment, and the workforce, for the rest, getting into college feels like the final stretch of the race that is getting through high school.

College acceptance is always a daunting feat, especially when you’re caught up in the mythology that you have to compete with your peers for a spot. This year, however, seems to be particularly cutthroat. Along with numerous accommodations made for the class of ’22, many schools overaccepted freshman and transfer applicants last year. This can be attributed to the record-low enrollment in Fall 2021, which spooked schools into a desperate frenzy to find applicants who could commit to four years of tuition in a time of historic economic insecurity and unemployment. So, many schools changed their rigid standards in order to increase enrollment. Yes, fee waivers made a significant impact on the amount of low-income students able to apply, but they also dramatically increased the size of the applicant pool. This made colleges look more selective, despite accepting a larger number of applicants than they had in years. When a school appears more selective, it attracts more applicants, and pushes more students to apply through Early Decision, a binding agreement not known for its fairness to those coming from an economic disadvantage. Colleges also moved towards test-blindness, and were consequently able to paint themselves as detaching from organizations like College Board, which faced public scrutiny in 2020 for the SAT’s eugenicist origins. 

When colleges opted for test-optional on 2022 applications, a staggering 30% fewer students took the SAT than they did the year prior. However, this dip occurred only briefly, and the number is on track to return to pre-pandemic levels within the next year or two. The COVID-era college admission standards were like most half-measures taken by universities and academic organizations in 2020–band-aid solutions to appease exhausted HR departments with very little foresight into the potential implications. It is phenomenal that with fee waivers, test blindness, and recognition of extraneous factors that affected students in 2020, low-income students enrolled in college in 2021 in record numbers. However, adequate space was not made for them in these institutions. Affordable housing was insufficient at schools with some of the highest endowments, student workers and TAs unionized and participated in strikes more than they had in decades, and the uncertain future of federal student debt relief measures were a constant threat to students who couldn’t afford the ever-increasing cost of education. With so many changes, college was supposed to be more accessible than ever, but the ricochet effects have come to bite this year’s applicants.

So we find ourselves in 2023, with more college applicants and a higher mean number of applications per student, and yet, enrollment losses are still occurring and each morning at LM seems to come with news of deferrals, waitlists, postponed announcements, and rejections. It was always meant to be this hard, right? A more cynical me might’ve called this some sort of reckoning bound to hit the entitlement of some of my peers sooner rather than later. But as the months pass and the stakes grow higher, the tension is palpable within the class of ’23. Teachers point to the myriad of poorly timed skip days as a sign of withdrawal, failing to acknowledge the uncommitted students they lecture to who still fill their classrooms on such days. At this point in the year, being committed is a privilege, and for everyone who hasn’t yet sent in their baby picture for their moment in the sun on @lmcommits2023, checking out simply isn’t an option. Hopefully March marks the end of a hellish year for LM’s seniors, but until then, all you can do is count the days. To the seniors trapped in the purgatory of 7 pm portal updates: try not to waste your last weeks with the people you’ve known for your entire life thinking about the rest of it. For the underclassmen, forget Sisyphus–imagine your Seniors happy. 

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