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Spring Focus > Spring Breakdown

Seniors are receiving their regular admission decisions, panic headlines are everywhere, the Jones’s are doing xyz*10000—you and your student are spiraling. ESM Prep Counselor Carley Nuzzo helps you find your footing in the wild terrain that is college admissions and gives you tips on positive steps that sophomores and juniors can take from here.

The numbers are in. And they are UP.

There have been meaningful increases in the number of applicants, the number of applications, and the number of applications per applicant. International applications to domestic institutions are up. Applications to both private and public institutions are up. Applications are up for institutions of all selectivity types (admission rates). The use of waitlists and deferrals are ever rising.

If you’re still a sophomore or junior, all this noise is likely at least a little bit anxiety-inducing.

But don’t let the numbers get you DOWN. There is plenty you can do now to make sure you stand out when it’s your turn to apply to college.

Find YOUR focus

At ESM Prep, we stress the importance of school fit and that has never been more important. We have always encouraged and helped students curate balanced school lists of reach, target, and safety schools and emphasized the importance of fit across the list regardless of their varying levels of relative selectivity. Prioritizing fit ensures students end up at the best possible schools for them, making success and happiness in college (and beyond) much more likely.

Now, just as one size does not fit all in regards to applicants’ school choices, one type of applicant does not fit what all schools are looking for either.

We discussed the macro level data above and if you’re consuming news (published or just neighborhood chatter) it’s probably considering these big picture trends as well. This can be daunting and can inhibit actionable next steps. We can make impactful decisions when we use more school (and in some cases, program) specific information.

This year, some institutions are reporting relatively lower numbers compared to last year (still much higher than pre pandemic numbers), while many others (notably NYU) are still shattering all time records.

The positive and negative shifts present for various reasons, such as shifting back to requiring test scores this year, experiencing unsustainable increases over the past two years, or riding a wave of increased popularity after their sports team(s) put their institutions on the national stage in high profile games.

Numbers should also not be considered in a vacuum and should be taken in context; for example, it’s important to consider significant differences across applicant pools.

More importantly, there are meaningful differences in school policies, admission (and curriculum) requirements, curriculum emphases, and institutional priorities.

So what does this mean for me?

All of the above suggests that students need to be more strategic about their efforts. Here are things to keep in mind now that will benefit you later when it’s time to apply.

1. Do not limit yourself.

While being academically competitive isn’t enough to gain admission to an institution, it can lead to rejection. Grades, GPA, test scores, course rigor—this all matters. Think of it as the first bar: in order for your application to even get a good read, your application needs to cross some minimum threshold of competitiveness for the institution to which you’re applying.

2. Be genuine and pursue activities that you are truly passionate about.

It’s not just fear mongering: There ARE endless students with similar stellar academic resumes, so the “extras” are what make you “you” and make your application stand out. There is one main thing to keep in mind here:

Nix the laundry list.

Schools cringe when they see students trying to add as much of “what colleges want to see” as possible. You will be much happier (and more successful) if you’re doing the things you love and for which you have a true interest. Schools will notice and appreciate that.

3. Be thoughtful and thorough.

Build a school list that includes a range of schools you would be excited to attend. Consider the fit of the school for you, and also your fit for the school.

4. Put yourself in the best position possible.

The final thing to keep in mind is that you should start strategizing now for how you’ll put your best foot forward. Speaking with a counselor as soon as possible about all of the following will make a huge difference when it’s time to apply:

  • Demonstrated interest: Does the institution care and how much?
  • Institutional values, culture and priorities: Do you align with these and have you demonstrated that?
  • Testing Policies: do they require testing (or will it benefit your application)?
  • Curriculum requirements: What do you need to apply and do they have unique graduation requirements?
  • Engaging and interesting essays: Have you allocated adequate time, effort, and support?
  • Early Decision, Early Action, Restricted Early Action: How do these impact admission rates? Are there drawbacks?

So take a deep breath, focus on doing YOUR best, get started on YOUR school list, and start down the right path for YOUR best possible outcomes!