Category Archives: Early Decision

College Admissions: The Year in Review

ChangeThe year 2019 did not disappoint those who love change in college admissions. Here are highlights prospective students should be aware of.

Changes to the NACAC Code of Ethics

Last year, the Justice Department stated that the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s (NACAC) rules violated antitrust laws and reduced student choices. In order to preserve the organization (and avoid a costly legal fight), NACAC members reluctantly voted to remove four key protectionary provisions at their annual conference. 

How will this impact students? 

The deleted protections prevented colleges from offering exclusive incentives to students applying Early Decision (e.g., special housing or scholarships), and rules that prevented colleges from recruiting students once they committed to a college. With the restrictions removed, admission experts predict many colleges will begin “poaching” students after the May 1 deadline in order to fill their classes (May 1st is the enrollment deadline for selective colleges, but an increasingly irrelevant deadline to many others); others predict colleges will raise their deposits in order to avoid being raided by other colleges for their students. 

The Admission Scandal and Admission Changes

Of course, the most publicized event of 2019 was the Varsity Blues College Admission Scandal. While there will always be individuals who manipulate the system, the vast majority of those who work in college admissions (including NACAC, HECA, and IECA members) do follow strict ethical guidelines. Time will tell if there will be any positive, systemic changes as a result of the scandal, but many colleges took it as an opportunity (or responsibility) to review admissions policies, especially around recruited athletes. 

A recent Bloomberg article reports that Yale, Pomona, and Bowdoin are performing “spot checks” with this year’s application cycle, taking the time to verify information students put in their applications. “Beyond athletics, we will be implementing measures to reduce the risk of fraud in all applications,” Peter Salovey, Yale University’s president, stated in a letter. The goal is to encourage students to be honest – even about the little things. 

Standardized Test Changes

The College Board, which administers the SAT, started a firestorm when it revealed last spring that it had been quietly sharing an Environmental Context Dashboard (aka, the “adversity score”) on students’ SAT reports with a few colleges (including Duke, Yale, and Florida State) and that many more colleges (100-150) would be seeing this score in the 2019-2020 admissions cycle. 

The adversity score was made up of the average of two rankings, one for the school environment and one for the student’s neighborhood environment. The intent was to offer colleges information about a student’s socioeconomic and educational environment, thereby helping colleges understand how much of an achievement a student’s SAT score is in light of their background. Students, parents, and high school counselors, however, were told they would not be able to see the score attached to students’ files.

The announcement immediately sparked a rush of criticism about both the predictive value and fairness of the test. The College Board responded by agreeing to provide additional background information with colleges instead of one arbitrary score, changed the name of the dashboard to the less objective Landscape, and agreed to share details with the public on Landscape’s methodology. 


In October, the ACT announced big changes to what it will offer students this fall. Starting with the September 2020 test, the ACT will offer Section Retesting, a listed Superscore, and online full-length tests with faster scoring (two business days).

Section Retesting will allow students to retake one, two, or three sections instead of having to retake the entire test, but is only available to students who have already taken a full-length test. There is no limit to the number of times students can retake sections. While this sounds enticing to ACT test-takers, experts argue it favors the wealthy and will drive up the scoring curve. 

The ACT will also be adding a student’s calculated “Superscore” (a composite of a student’s top section scores across multiple test dates) to students’ Section Retesting report. The ACT is strongly encouraging colleges to allow superscoring (which would save families additional fees when sending multiple reports), but colleges set their own policies regarding test scores. It remains to be seen if and how colleges will change their policies in light of ACT’s enhancements.

Test Optional?

A coalition of advocacy groups filed a lawsuit in November against the University of California, demanding that its nine undergraduate campuses stop requiring applicants to submit ACT or SAT results. The group argues that the standardized tests are inherently biased against the poor. If the UC system becomes test optional, many predict this will drastically change the college admission landscape and more colleges would follow. A review of SAT and ACT relevance by a UC task force is expected to conclude by the end of the 2019-20 academic year.

Other Trends in College Admissions

To learn about other trends in College Admissions, read NACAC’s State of College Admission Counseling Report. Highlights include:  

-Colleges are increasing their use of selecting Early Decision applicants to fill a large portion of their classes.

-More colleges are offering to put students on their waitlists, but admit very few of them. 

-A high Student-to-Counselor ratio remains in schools (in 2016–17 each public school counselor was responsible for an average of 455 students).

-Admission Offices continue to identify grades, high school curriculum, and test scores as top factors for first-time freshmen.

-Colleges, on average, accept 66.7% of their applicants.


Kristen Miller is an independent college counselor in Portland, Oregon and is the founder and owner of College Bound & Ready.

Early Decision & College Admissions

danielle-macinnes-222441-unsplash-beginGrab a cup of tea or coffee, and please don’t blame the messenger! This blog contains important but not necessarily great information that families should understand early on in the college planning process that might help to explain why selective colleges are rapidly becoming more selective and why it is difficult to get merit scholarships at selective colleges.

If you or your student will be applying to highly selective schools (schools that admit less than 25% of their applicants) you should be aware of the increased utilization of Early Decision by selective colleges. If your student is not considering any highly selective schools, you can enjoy your coffee without reading the rest of this blog.

Early Decision is a binding agreement that students make with one college, where if they are admitted they will attend that school and withdraw all other applications without waiting to find out if they were admitted elsewhere or what aid (need or merit) is offered.

This is not a “strategy” to use if you want your student to compete for scholarships as well as admission. However, it is important to understand this “strategy”, as it is becoming more of strategy for both students/families without financial need to increase admission chances, as well as for colleges to secure a guaranteed portion of their incoming class.

Colleges that use Early Decision do not have to guess whether or not these students will accept their admission offers, because students being admitted through ED are required to attend that school, except in very specific situations. This means that colleges will have a higher admission yield (percent of students that accept a college’s offer), which improves college rankings. Colleges also know that a large portion of Early Decision applicants will be full-pay applicants (will not have financial need), as these students give up the opportunity to compare scholarship/aid offers if they are admitted to their ED school. In addition, most highly selective schools do not offer (or offer very little) merit scholarships, as all students are meritorious (high grades, test scores, and extracurricular achievements).

Most students and families do not want to give up the opportunity to compete for scholarships and/or compare need-based aid offers unless one of four things: Continue reading

College Application Countdown Tips for Seniors

(Adapted from College Bound & Ready’s article in the Applerouth Tutoring Services September 2017 Newsletter)

I know the start of senior year is filled with excitement as well as a bit of anxiety about the college application process, but I encourage you to stay focused on your college goals these last seven short weeks before the Early Application deadline of November 1st.  Even if you will be sending in your applications after that early application period, here are some tips to help triage all of your college tasks:checklist

  • Finalize your college list. Start by reviewing the list with your parents. Can you articulate why you want to attend each college?  If not, do more research and reach out to the colleges’ admissions staff to learn more about programs that interest you. Do you have a nice balance of “likely”, “target”, and “reach” schools?  Have you run the Net Price Calculators for each of the schools, and are they financially within your budget?
  • Gather information. Once you have your college list finalized, create a document that lists all the requirements and due dates for each of your colleges. Your document should include: application due date; financial aid forms required (FAFSA only or FAFSA and CSS Profile) and due dates (these are often different than application due dates); number of letters of recommendations required and/or allowed; if an official transcript is required; if test scores and what test scores are required or recommended; if a counselor recommendation/school report is required; and if a mid-year report (1st semester grades) and/or final transcript are required.  Organize this list by the earliest due date to the latest.
  • Ask teachers for letters of recommendation. Think of two academic teachers, ideally from your junior year, that you developed strong relationships with and that can offer different insights on the type of student you were in their classrooms. Ask them, “Would you be willing to write a strong letter of recommendation for my college applications?” Using this terminology allows teachers a way out if they feel they could not write you a strong letter and gives you an opportunity to sense hesitation, which is a sign that you should ask someone else. Some teachers request that students fill out a questionnaire to help them write stronger letters; if they do not, I suggest you email the teacher(s) examples of things you did in and out of their classroom(s) to be a strong student and helpful classmate. Teachers are not required to write letters of recommendations for students, but they do it every year. Please keep this in mind when asking them, and remember to send a thank you note after they do so.
  • Check in with your school counselor. Find out the procedures and timeline to request an official transcript and counselor recommendation/school report from your school counselor, as well as share the names of your teacher recommenders with them. Colleges prefer that you do not see your recommendation letters from counselors or teachers, so your teacher recommendations will likely be sent to your colleges by your counselor. If you have started your Common Application, this is what is allowed to happen when you sign the FERPA waiver.  Some teachers might offer to share their letter with you, but that should be their choice and not your request.
  • Organize your essays by topic. Copy and paste the supplemental essay prompt questions, word limits and due dates for all of your colleges into a Word or Google document titled, “Supplemental Essays”. Review all of the questions carefully to see where you could use similar topics more than once. I recommend grouping similar essay prompts together and creating a second list titled, “Essay Types”. For example:

Continue reading

Additions to the College Admissions Landscape – Part 1

For college-bound students, the summer before senior year is filled with college list development, test prep, campus tours, and of course, essay writing. It should also include time to research what each college considers and requires of students when they apply.  Here are a few relatively new factors to be aware of beforcampus_tour-300x184e starting the college application process.

Demonstrated Interest

Demonstrated interest has become an increasingly important tool to help colleges with enrollment management. Colleges are businesses charged with filling just the right about of beds and seats each year and trying to offer just enough financial aid (no more, no less) to entice students to attend. To help determine who is likely to accept an offer of admission, and at what price, colleges track a student’s behavior to gauge their interest level.  The very first time a student engages with a college (via responding to an email or mailing, visiting a college, or connecting with an admissions staff member) a file is started in the student’s name and points can be given.  In some cases, showing demonstrated interest (and applying early) can be the equivalent of a 100-point increase in SAT score and a .25 boost in GPA. Students should research whether or not schools tracks demonstrated interest and what tools are available to demonstrate interest in that college.  Two specific things to look out for are Admission Interviews and Early Admission (Early Action or Early Decision). Continue reading