Although the 2021-2022 admissions season isn’t over, there are indications that it will ultimately be the most competitive yet, especially at highly selective schools. With application volume soaring, it can be hard to know how to best position yourself for success. Rest assured, the right college admissions strategy can greatly enhance your chances. If you’re a current junior, consider taking these steps:

  • Create a well-balanced school list.

Now, more than ever, it’s incredibly important to cast a wide net. This requires having an open mind, and realizing that the current seniors at a given college probably wouldn’t be admitted into the freshman class. Selectivity is increasing that rapidly at many, many schools – case in point: Colby, which received 17,000 applications for the class of 2026, up from less than 5000 in 2014. I absolutely believe in including multiple reach schools, but the definitions of reach, target and safety are evolving quickly. The right school list will take these dynamics into realistic account.

  • Visit schools in-person now, and attend virtual events.

One of the reasons that we are seeing such unpredictable results this year is that colleges are having trouble projecting yield. This means that you should visit colleges and attend information sessions for two important reasons. The obvious one is to assess fit, and to identify schools where you will be happy. The less obvious one is to signal demonstrated interest, an important metric at many colleges. The good news is that there are now various ways to engage with schools online, which furthers both goals and relieves some of the financial and logistical burdens that are placed on applicants.

  • Choose Early Decision and Early Decision 2 targets.

Another reason to visit schools in person now, while students are still on campus, is to solidify your early decision targets. One of the best ways to maximize your odds, especially at the most selective schools, is to apply early decision, which is hard to do with confidence if you haven’t been on campus. For this reason, if it’s possible to do so I strongly advise you to visit potential early decision targets. I also strongly advise you to choose an early decision 2 target, in addition to early decision 1. Applying in the non-binding early action round, or early in a rolling admissions cycle, is another way to tip the odds in your favor.

  • Understand that senior year counts.

Senior year has always been important, but with more students getting deferred (and likely waitlisted), it’s prudent to expect additional scrutiny on your senior year. Maintain academic rigor, keep your grades up and continue to participate in activities. It’s also a good idea to think about who you might ask for an additional recommendation, if a school allows you to do so later in the year, and to keep track of awards and other accomplishments that you can share with the admissions offices in update letters.

Instead of being overwhelmed by the current landscape, take proactive steps to enhance your candidacy. There is still time to craft a college admissions strategy that will optimize your results.

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Karen Marks

Karen has more than 12 years of experience evaluating candidates for admission to Dartmouth College and to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Since founding North Star Admissions Consulting in 2012, she has helped applicants gain admission to the nation’s top schools, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Wharton, MIT, Tuck, Columbia, Kellogg, Booth, Haas, Duke, Johnson, Ross, NYU, UNC, UCLA, Georgetown and more. Clients have been awarded more than $70 million dollars in scholarships, and more than 98% have gotten into one of their top choice schools.
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