Decisions for Class of 2021

One of the most unpredictable and turbulent college admissions cycle is finally coming to an end. These seniors have been put through the ringer and yet they still stand strong, a little worse for wear, but bright-eyed nonetheless. I am so proud of all of them. Not only for getting through the year, but for staying focused and keeping their eyes firmly on the prize. That's no small feat when the rules keep changing but even especially more so when you keep pushing through roadblocks, only to find more roadblocks popping up in your journey.


In the fall we knew colleges were receiving many more applications than in previous years and that that would bring down the acceptance rates at many of the most sought-after universities. What we didn't know was the absolute mind boggling acceptance decisions that would come out of our very own University of California campuses. Students who should've easily gotten in at some of the campuses were either put on waitlists or outright denied admission. It started with UC Santa Cruz and the confusion erupted with the UC Santa Barbara decisions. UC Davis was not far behind when they put so many 4.10+ GPA students on the waitlist.


Cal State campuses had a similar story. San Diego State University as well as Cal State Long Beach denied students up and down the state. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo has always been a highly competitive university with an acceptance rate of around 30% but this year many of our strongest students were denied admission, especially those wanting to major in biology and computer science.



In hopes of understanding what was going on, many seniors wondered if they were victims of yield rates. Colleges try to offer admission only to those who they think will accept or enroll, thereby ensuring their 'yield rate' (the rate of students who are offered admission and actually enroll) remains high (or high enough). This is why sometimes very high achieving students don't get into some state schools. Their GPAs are just too high compared to the college’s average freshman profile and those colleges know that these students will choose to enroll elsewhere.


I gave my families some data in December when the Early Decision information was released. Families with rising seniors have been asking for numbers and wondering what to expect in the next admissions cycle. Here's some more information as we move into April.

  • UC received 203,700 applications for admission for fall 2021, a 18.3% increase from fall 2020 (172,099 applications). These are unduplicated counts of applications received systemwide and include both residents and nonresidents.

  • California resident applications increased by 13% and applications from domestic nonresident and international students both increased, by 44.2% and 10% respectively

  • 5 out of 9 UC campuses saw their applications pass the 100,000 mark

  • UC Berkeley received 112,820 applications - a 28.2% increase from 88,026 applications in 2020

  • UC Davis received 87,118 applications - a 13.3% increase from 76,873 applications in 2020

  • UC San Diego received 118,360 applications - a 18.3% increase from 100,034 applications in 2020

  • UCLA received a whopping 139,463 applications - a 28.2% increase from 108,837 applications in 2020

  • UC Santa Barbara received 105,640 applications - a 16.2% increase from 90,947 applications in 2020

  • UC Irvine received 107,939 applications - a 10.2% increase from 97,916 applications in 2020


UCLA has space for approximately 6,300 freshmen so even if they offer admission to approximately 15,000 students that still brings their acceptance rate to under 11%. That's in line with Ivy League schools and doesn't bode well for our California students. This year they offered somewhere between 5% to 10% of the applicants a chance to be on their waitlist. How fast these waitlists will move is anyone's guess.


Waitlists are another problem. In a good year waitlists tend to give students hope of getting in even when data shows us that waitlists usually don’t move too much and sometimes it’s better to cut your losses and move on. Colleges, especially the more selective ones, might offer hundreds, if not thousands, of students a spot on the waitlist. Usually, at some point two thirds of those applicants decline and remove themselves from the waitlist. But even with those odds, chances of getting off the waitlist is miniscule. If you’re wondering why your child was put on several waitlists at competitive schools it helps to look at waitlists from the universities’ perspective.


Colleges need to admit enough students to ensure their enrollment doesn’t decrease. Even if they are off by just one student, they could potentially lose anywhere between $20,000 to $72,000 in one year. So they admit a certain number of students in the hopes that a certain percentage of them will enroll. Depending on this number they pull students from the waitlist. Sometimes when a student is offered admission from a waitlist, they have only 24 to 48 hours to enroll.


Colleges might put an applicant on the waitlist for several reasons. Usually it’s because the applicant is very strong and a good fit but they feel they’re (the college) not a top choice. Sometimes they might put a legacy student or athlete on the list just to pacify people. Maybe students from your high school have historically chosen other universities over the years, maybe you never demonstrated any interest. By putting your student on the waitlist, the college is essentially putting the ball in your court and saying, “Show us why you still want to come here.”


For so many students this year who were put on more than one waitlist, the easy path might be to just accept all of them and stay on several waitlists at once. I would seriously reconsider doing that. Choose wisely and only continue being on a waitlist if that college or university is a top contender.


Most students have received acceptance letters from some amazing colleges. It would be worth your time to research those colleges and really understand the benefits of enrolling at each of them. And of course the other reason would be to leave those waitlists for students who would actually enroll there. As I mentioned to a family the other day, students have great choices, they’re just not the choices the student wanted.


If you are on a waitlist, keep an eye out for updates. With Ivy League schools announcing decisions on April 6th, there might very well be a lot of movement in the space of 48 hours after the 6th. Of course, waitlists can move as late as August, so it’s really up to you and your student whether you want to stay in limbo for the next 3 to 4 months.


If you’re still looking for more information, here are some more universities that have published data this past week:


University of Southern California: Out of 70,971 applicants, 8,804 were offered admission resulting in an acceptance rate of 12%. The average unweighted GPA was 3.88 with more than a third earning straight A’s throughout high school.


Georgia Tech: 45,350 total applications (an 11% increase from last year)

Class size: 3,450

Overall admit rate: 18%

Georgia admit rate: 32%

Non-Georgia admit rate: 14%

Number of students who applied without a SAT/ACT test score: 37%

Number of students who were admitted without a test score: 21%


Vanderbilt University:

Applications: 47,174

Admitted: 3,162

Admit Rate: 6.7%

Percent of students applying with test scores: 56.3%

Percent of students admitted with test scores: 61.1%


So, what does all of this mean? It means that the Class of 2022 also has a long road ahead of them. The good news is that we now have more substantial information to better understand how test scores will affect admissions. We will also get more information in the fall and that in turn will help us understand what our state schools are looking for when they offer or deny admission to our students. Future applicants who want to stay in state now know that they must cast a wider net. That doesn't mean apply to more schools, it means that your college list has to cover all bases. Students who were successful this year made sure they had the proper number of colleges on their list; in state, out of state, and both public and private.