Reflections on the 2019-20 cycle thus far

Asia / Guides

Working with students based in the British Isles and globally, the last few months have been crazily busy supporting them with their applications. As things start to get submitted, I wanted to pause and reflect on some key takeaways I’ve seen from this application cycle.

1. The more complicated your application, the less inclined students are to apply

I now have memorised the list of US universities which are test-optional, offer early action and have no extra writing requirements beyond the Common App essay, as in the last few weeks I’ve had many students look to supplement their college lists in the US in this way. If a student wants to add a couple of likely or safety colleges to their list, seeing that there’s a chunk of extra writing is a major disincentive. Added to that, having early action (instead of early decision) can tip the balance, with the student and family thinking ‘why not’? Northeastern and the University of Miami have always filled this role nicely for me, but this year I’ve seen more and more requests for universities like this. Arizona State has come from nowhere to be popular with my students for this reason. Outside of the USA, the same applies. The Netherlands continues to be popular, particularly the university colleges, but the more complicated the essay requirements (hello Amsterdam University College), the less likely students are to apply when it’s not one of their top choices.

2. Testing

The most recent cycles of the ACT and SAT seem to have been a bit brutal. I’m not an expert on how the curves work each time, but this year I seem to have more students than ever with a significant mismatch between their achievement in A Levels or IB, and the test scores they have received (even after excellent preparation). It is for this reason that I’m seeing more and more students applying test optionally, and if more of the top-ranked US universities were also EA not ED, I’d have a batch of students applying to those too. If the University of California goes test optional (as is widely rumoured) then I can see where a huge number of my students’ applications will be going!

3. Lost in translation

I sometimes think that my job is to take the needs of one application system and translate it into language that the student and family understands, but this year I’ve found this to be even more important. Terminology such as courses, honors, diploma, schedule and more are not widely understood by many families, creating a barrier to applications. Twice yesterday I had students say to me ‘We wouldn’t have been able to do this without you’, which though it feels nice makes me concerned: what about those students who don’t have university guidance available to them, or the means to pay for someone like me?

That’s enough of a break from the busyness ahead of November 1st, back to my emails!