Quantum’s 2024 Early Admissions Insights

Quantum’s 2024 Early Admissions Insights

Congratulations to our class of 2024 students who gained early entry into their dream universities, with acceptances into the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University, Barnard College, NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and more! You have all worked hard!

The last two years have undoubtedly been tumultuous and unpredictable due to the pandemic. The pandemic has also revealed many gaps in the US admissions process that admission officers are working hard to patch up. As consultants, we make sure to keep up with the ever-evolving landscape of admissions to make sure we give our students the best advice possible. Below are five takeaways we have noticed so far.

1) Standardized Tests Matter!

In the 2021-2022 admissions cycle, most universities in the US opted for a truly test-optional approach due to the pandemic, where universities pledged not to disadvantage students if students did not have a score. Universities then started de-emphasizing standardized testing. However, some universities like MIT and Georgia Tech have returned to since gone back to test required, while most other universities remain test-optional. As such, a question we are constantly asked by families is, “is SAT really optional?” The simple answer is no—good students will still have good scores. Although students are given the option not to submit, universities will still prefer to see a score.  This is because recent research shows that standardized test scores help predict many factors, including college grades, chances of graduation, and post-college success. And since they are standardized, they are more reliable than in-school grades, largely due to grade inflation in the past few years. Ultimately, it is a consistent and reliable data point that university admission officers use to differentiate between applicants. As for schools that are test-blind like the University of California schools (UCLA, UC Berkeley, etc.), although they will not evaluate a student’s SAT or ACT scores even if they are submitted, they are still looking for other data points and other standardized exam scores to differentiate between their applicants, such as APs, IGCSE/GCSEs, and final IB scores, with some schools even setting conditional offers for IB students.

2) “Diversity”

Diversity is a big word in the world of US admissions, but it is one that is often misunderstood. Most understand diversity in terms of different ethnicities, nationalities, gender expression, sexual orientation, and more. This definition is slowly changing.

In terms of standardized testing, the test-optional policy was originally implemented to reduce discrimination against lower-income applicants. However, research has recently shown that test scores can help identify lower-income students and underrepresented groups who will thrive and do well in university. Indeed, these students may not score as well as wealthy or white and Asian students, but a solid score for these students is often considered a sign of great potential. Universities have since been placing more emphasis on their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) policies and strategies and have steadily increased their intake of lower-income and diverse applicants. As a result, there are now fewer spots available for international students.

Now that universities have an increased population of lower-income, diverse students, research has begun to show that “diversity does not lead to diverse interactions”. In response, universities and admission officers are now shifting their focus to inclusivity instead of just diversity.

3) More and Tougher Essays!

As part of universities’ strategy to enhance DEI, many schools have since changed their supplemental essay prompts accordingly. It is important to understand that universities seek not only diversity in terms of identities and ethnicities but also applicants with diverse experiences. As such, we have noticed a trend in essay prompts asking how students have responded to someone with a different opinion, how students have actively tried to make their community a more inclusive place, or even how they have challenged beliefs or ideas and what they learned in the process. Essay prompts are now moving beyond the standard “why college” or “why major” essays; they are now asking students to think deeply about their experiences and how they intend to contribute and help foster an inclusive community at university.

Essays are a huge part of the admissions process as they provide insight into a student’s voice, character, attitude, and ideas. Supplemental essay prompts are carefully designed by each individual school’s admission officers to find students with the right fit. As such, the newer, tougher essay prompts are now also a way in which universities differentiate between students: they are basically saying, “If you can’t write the essay, don’t apply.”

4) The Role of AI

With the onset of AI and tools like ChatGPT, it is unsurprising that students may be tempted to use AI to help write their essays. As sophisticated as the tools are, we, as consultants, would never advise students to write essays with them. Firstly, many schools consider it academic dishonesty or even have a clause in their application that students must sign and pledge that they have not used any AI assistance in their application. Secondly, as seasoned consultants, we can often tell when a student uses AI to write their essays. While it is alright to use it as a tool for brainstorming, it is never okay to submit something fully written by AI. Lastly, schools have begun implementing video responses, timed video essays (students must respond to the prompt in real time with cameras on), and requiring sample graded papers. This is how they will check how consistent a student’s language, tone, and voice is across all the essays. So, in short, don’t use AI to write essays! They will know!

5) Know Your School

Doing sufficient research into the schools you’re applying to has always been important. With more schools introducing unique prompts and narrowing the scope of their essays, the landscape of questions asked is changing, and understanding each school well has never been as crucial as now. Schools have started opening up more platforms and spaces for students all around the world to get to know them more, from virtual information sessions to chats with existing students. As consultants, a big part of what we do is introducing appropriate schools for students based on their interests, personalities, and character. What that also includes is informing them of all the neurons and quirks of each school so that students can write the most convincing and compelling essays possible!

All in all, the US admissions landscape seems to be heading in a new direction. What hasn’t changed, however, is schools are still looking for students who would contribute to and be a good fit for their community! Our job as consultants is to streamline the process of finding these good-fit universities and help students put their best selves forward.

Quantum Prep is an education consultancy that focuses on placing their students at the best colleges or universities. We boast of diverse results. In addition to the traditional rap sheet of prestigious university acceptances, our consultants like to highlight the different paths they have sent students on. All of our students are different; we are proud of our one-on-one tailored approach towards university counselling. Contact us for a complimentary 30-minute initial meeting, where you can get tailored individualized advice on how to put your best foot forward. Read our reviews to see what our clients think of us.

By Ally Ip (Director of Research) and Sabrina Ma (Admissions Consulting Partner)

Published 18-02-2024

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