Welcome To Digital Testing – The New SAT

The PSAT and SAT soon will be taken by college-bound students only by computer. The  transition from paper-based to digital testing affirms the continuing relevance and usefulness of standardized tests in the test optional, post-pandemic era. 

There is likely to be a significant increase in the number of SAT-takers when conversion to the digital model is complete. According to a survey taken by the College Board as part of its pilot program, 80% of test-takers indicated that they preferred digital tests because they found them to be less stressful.

Although less than perfect, standardized tests are a pragmatic means of leveling the playing field for the students of nearly 27,000 American high schools, ranging widely in curriculum options, academic rigor, and grading systems. The tests enable students to demonstrate their ability beyond what’s indicated by their GPA and curriculum — the most important factors in admissions. Although submitting test scores is now optional at many colleges, most still use standardized test scores as a way to identify promising students. 

  1. Facts About the Digital Tests

The pandemic caused students and educational institutions to adapt to learning and testing in a digital environment. The College Board is taking advantage of this fact  by adopting digital testing. Below is an overview of their digital PSAT/SAT products:

  1. Who Will Take the Tests

Students now in tenth grade, the high school Class of 2025, will be the first to take the digital PSAT in the fall of this year with the same three variations that are offered in the paper-based test: PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, and PSAT 8/9.

Most high school students take the SAT for the first time in spring of their junior year. The first digital SAT, set for the spring of 2024, will be taken by current tenth graders as well as students in lower grades who wish to take it. Students can take only the paper SAT through the end of 2023.​

  • How and Where Students Will Take the Tests

Digital tests will not be taken by students in their home via the Internet. They will only be taken in a test center. Students may use a Chromebook, a MAC or Windows laptop, or an iPad tablet. They may use their own device or one provided by the test center​ if they make a request in advance through the test registration process.

An Internet connection is required for the test. Test-takers will need to connect to the test center’s Wi-Fi with their personal or test center-provided devices in order to allow for online communication to and from College Board.

Students will use the center’s network link to download and install a personalized software program from College Board for the test. The program prevents the test-taker from using other features of their device while working on the test.

Because each test-taker receives their own personalized program for the test, security and privacy are better in the digital system than the paper-based system.   Question #10 on one student’s test is different than Question #10 on another student’s, making cheating more difficult and testing more secure.

A calculator integrated within the downloaded program will be available for the duration of the test. There will no longer be a Math subsection that prohibits the use of a calculator. A hide-able integrated timer will be displayed at the top of the page on which the student is working. If there is a disruption, the timer will pause and can later be reset by the proctor so that the test-taker does not lose time. A set of annotation tools will be included within the program so students can take notes and highlight or cross out text.

  • Scoring Range Remains the Same but Test Timing Changes

As in the current system, PSAT scores will range from 320 to 1520​ points and the SAT from 400 to 1600​.

The time allowed for the PSAT and SAT digital tests will be 2 hours and 14 minutes, which is more than an hour less than what the current tests allow.​ There will be two distinct Verbal subsections, each lasting 32 minutes and having 27 questions. Only 25 of the 27 questions will be scored. The other two are experimental questions used for research purposes by College Board in developing future tests. There will no longer be a break between Reading and Writing in the Verbal section.

There will be two separate Math subsections—each will last for 35 minutes and have 22 questions. Only 20 of the 22 questions will be scored with the other two being experimental. Grid-in questions, which call for student-produced responses, will be mixed in with multiple choice questions, unlike the current SAT in which there is a distinct subsection for grid-in questions.

  • Question Formats Will Change Slightly

In both the PSAT and SAT, the subject matter of the Math and Verbal sections will remain the same. The full range of problem-solving and data analysis topics that are covered in the Math section of current SAT will be on the digital test. However, there will be fewer problem solving and data analysis questions (which cover percentages, probability, organizing data, and basic statistics) than there are on the current test. 

In the Verbal section, there will no longer be long passages with multiple questions to answer about each one. Each question will have its own short passage, and the question will be for that short passage only. Passages will be standard prose comprehension with poetry and logical completion items. In the latter, students will read a short passage, the last line of which has been left blank. The student will then choose from among four options the one that best completes the passage​. Reading and writing items will be clustered—several reading, followed by several writing (either grammar or expression).

  • Multistage Adaptive ​Methodology

A significant innovation on the digital SAT is its Multistage AdaptiveMethodology, which is enabled by the flexibility inherent in computer systems and software. Students will begin their initial Math and Verbal sections with questions researched to be at an average level of difficulty. The student’s device scores these questions immediately using the College Board’s downloaded program. If the student scores high on them, he or she will be given more challenging questions for the rest of the section. If the student does not perform well, he or she will be given less difficult questions. Performance on the first few questions dictates the range of possible scores that a student can receive​.

  • Accommodations for the Digital Tests​

The same accommodations available under the paper-based system will be available  for the digital tests. Most are integrated within the student’s personalized, downloaded program. When a student signs in at the test center, their program will recognize previously approved accommodations and will provide them for the test. The timer, for example, will be extended for those students who have been granted extra time. A screen will indicate if an extra break has been scheduled. A student’s screen will have larger print if that accommodation has been approved.

As is the case now, students must be approved for accommodations by the Services for Students with Disabilities panel at College Board. This is done in advance through the test registration process so that the Board can include the accommodation(s) in the student’s personalized program.

  • Paper Test Content and Digital Test Content

There are no differences in content scope between the paper and digital tests for either the Verbal or Math sections of the PSAT and SAT. The level of difficulty is equivalent. The only differences are in the media and technology used to take them.

  • Superscoring

College Board is recommending that colleges superscore between and among paper and digital versions until the conversion to digital is complete. For example, if a student takes a paper SAT in December 2023 and receives a higher score in Verbal than in Math and then takes the digital SAT in May 2024 and gets a higher score in Math than in Verbal, College Board encourages colleges to combine the two high scores into one superscore.

  • Practicing for Digital Tests

Four full-length adaptive digital practice tests are available through Bluebook, College Board’s test delivery platform. Students who have downloaded Bluebook will be able to take the practice tests using the same interface, format, and scoring methodology that they will use for the actual digital SAT starting in 2024.

  1. Practice Test Tips

Students should guess on practice tests if they don’t know an answer because incorrect answers will not be penalized. They should refer to the scoring guide after the test because it has explanations of answers and is designed to guide students in identifying areas for study.

In traditional testing on the SAT, the total number of correct answers corresponds directly to a score. In an adaptive test like the digital SAT, scoring is more complex because individual questions have different weights. The term used for differential weighting is Item Response Scoring. This is the method used to score digital tests.

  • Insights on the Math and Verbal Sections

Jed Applerouth, an educational consultant, has researched the digital SAT by administering practice tests to his student-clients. He concluded that the structural changes adopted to make the test shorter, adaptive, and slower-paced will make it more popular with students and educators.

Regarding the Math section, Applerouth’s summary is, “At 44 total problems, down from 58, the math section feels more manageable. There are fewer word problems, which is great for non-native speakers. On the digital SAT only 30% of math items will be in the context of science or social studies or real-world applications. The remaining 70% of items will be pure math problems.”

Regarding the Verbal section, Applerouth summary is, “Reading is shorter, but tougher on the new SAT.Short passages are not necessarily easier passages. The reading level on the practice tests is as high, if not higher, than other SATs in recent years. Switching to a new topic, voice, and style every question requires a bit more mental agility. Counterbalancing this, the predictable grouping of questions by type (all vocabulary at once followed by all craft and structure questions), allows a student to get into a particular problem-solving mindset for a stretch of time.”

  • SAT vs. ACT

For several decades, the SAT and ACT have essentially been different versions of the same thing. Both have measured the cognitive abilities and readiness for college of test-takers. However, this similarity will end with the advent of the digital SAT.

The College Board is advancing technologically in an effort to change with the times. ACT’s strategy is to continue on as a paper-based system. Since almost all colleges that accept tests will accept either one, the divergence in testing technology will afford students the option to choose which approach suits them best.

Best Undergraduate Business Schools

People tend to associate the term “B-School” with MBA programs, especially those at prestigious universities. But it’s the qualitative distinctions among undergraduate B-Schools that are of more interest to high school students planning to pursue business as a major and career.

A Controversy in Business Education

B-Schools are not vocational schools. Some believe it is a mistake to fetishize job preparation for specific business fields. This orientation might demand more hours from students, but it doesn’t provide well-rounded educations, says Henry Mintzberg, a professor at McGill University who is a critic of the traditional approach to business education. He says it’s wrong to offer vocational subjects like finance and marketing to 18-year-olds. Instead, in support of a humanistic, multidisciplinary model of management education, he states that “The object of undergraduate business education is to educate people, not to give them a lot of functional business stuff.”

A report from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching praises 10 American undergraduate business schools as models for integrating the liberal arts and practical training. One of the institutions is Babson College in Massachusetts. Its president, Leonard A. Schlesinger, says that concrete business skills tend to expire in five years or so as technology changes. History and philosophy, in contrast, provide the kind of contextual knowledge and reasoning skills that are indispensable to success in business.

Since 2003, a prestigious business accreditor, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), has driven business departments to set learning objectives and adjust their curriculums to expose students to the liberal arts. AACSB’s goal is for its member B-School’s to provide what employers want. According to national surveys, they want to hire graduates who can write effectively, think creatively, and analyze problems logically, and they’re perfectly happy to hire English, philosophy, and history majors if that what it takes to satisfy their needs.

Rankings of Undergraduate Business Schools

Business and the related fields of finance, economics, accounting, and management are currently among the most popular areas of study among undergraduates, representing about 20% of enrolled students. Many colleges have developed excellent programs to compete for the best qualified B-School applicants.

As part of their research into which school fits them best, aspiring business majors should review the rankings of undergraduate B-Schools published by two sources: U.S. News and World Report (U.S. News) and Poets&Quants, a resource for business students. A comparison of these two sources is beneficial because their ranking  methodologies differ significantly.

  1. U. S. News: “Best Undergraduate Business Programs

The U.S. News ranking is based solely on the judgments of deans and senior faculty at peer institutions. They conduct a survey of the undergraduate business programs accredited by the AACSB. In 2022, they surveyed 842 schools and had a 47.7% response rate.

The survey’s respondents – two at each AACSB-accredited program – are asked to rate the quality of the business programs with which they’re familiar on a scale from 1 (marginal) to 5 (distinguished). U.S. News then computes an average score for each program. Undergraduate business schools are ranked according to these scores. 

  • Poets&Quants: “Best Undergraduate Business Schools

Poets&Quants analyzed 93 business schools this year. Their methodology is more data-driven than that of U.S. News. It assesses what Poets&Quants considers to be the three core components of a high quality undergraduate business education. These are:

  1. The quality and diversity of students enrolled in a program,
  • A school’s ability to nurture and challenge students, and
  • The response of top employers to a school’s graduates.

In summary, admissions standards, student experience, and career outcomes are the three aspects of a business school education that Poets & Quants measures.

Comparing the Outcomes of the Methodologies

The results of the U. S. News and Poets&Quants methodologies are compared in Table A, which lists the top 10 institutions under each approach. State universities listed refer to the main campuses. Three ties are indicated on the U.S. News list.

Table A: The Top 10 Undergraduate Business Schools in 2022

 U. S. News Poets&Quants
1University of Pennsylvania – Wharton1University of Pennsylvania – Wharton
2Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Sloan2Georgetown University – McDonough
2University of California at Berkeley – Haas3University of Southern California – Marshall
4University of Michigan – Ross4Washington University of St. Louis – Olin
5Carnegie Mellon University – Tepper5University of Virginia – McIntire
5New York University – Stern6University of Michigan – Ross
7University of Texas – McCombs7New York University – Stern
8Cornell University – Dyson8University of Notre Dame – Mendoza
8Indiana University – Kelley9Villanova University – VSB
10University of North Carolina – Kenan-Flagler10Georgia Institute of Technology – Scheller

Key Metrics

A key factor in the ranking of business schools is admission rates. The rates for 2021-22 were extraordinary. Ten schools reported rates of less than 12%. The previous year, only three schools reported rates under 12% — UPenn’s Wharton with 7.6%, Cornell’s Dyson with 7.9%, and the UNC’s Kenan-Flagler with 11.5%. In 2021-22, Cornell’s rate dropped to 5.4%, Wharton’s fell to 6.0%, NYU’s Stern School had a rate of 7.2%, the Washington University Olin School’s rate was 8.4%, and USC’s Marshall School was 9.9%.

Another important metric is the percentage of students who find suitable employment within three months of graduation. The University of Richmond and Marian University both reported placing 100% of their 2021 graduates into full-time positions. The Miami University of Ohio’s Farmer School and the University of Miami’s Herbert College reported employment rates of 99%. The sky-high rates at these and other schools were boosted by full employment in the U.S. economy.

Starting salaries is also a key measure of a B-School’s efficacy. Wharton led in salaries at first jobs with an average for their graduates of $85,345. Georgetown reported an equally impressive $85,213, making it #2. NYU’s Stern School was #3 with average starting salaries of $81,669.

Finding a Major or Specialty

Students considering a bachelor’s degree in business must not only identify the right school for them, but the right major or specialization as well. The best business schools offer programs that build upon a comprehensive set of survey courses, including liberal arts, and then focus on majors in specific subject areas.

The University of Connecticut’s undergraduate business program, for example, includes majors in Accounting, Business Administration, Business Data Analytics, Management, Finance, Financial Management, Health Care Management, and Management for Engineering & Manufacturing. Other majors commonly available to B-School undergraduates include Marketing, Sales, Human Resources, International Business, Information Systems, Supply Chain Management, Entrepreneurship, Health Care Administration, and Project Management.


As an experienced Certified Educational Planners and Independent Educational Consultants, the professionals at The College Planner, LLC understand the new landscape of college admissions. We guide our students through the maze of admissions all the way to enrollment in the college that fits them best. The College Planner, LLC has helped students place in a wide range of excellent schools including Tufts, Northeastern, Catholic, UConn, Skidmore, Boston University, Boston College, Brown, Fairfield, Fordham, Holy Cross, Colby, George Washington, William & Mary, Penn State, Villanova, Wake Forest, UPenn, Bates, and many others.

The Rights of Disabled College Students

Students with disabilities in public K-12 schools are entitled to special services that will engender a successful educational experience. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) specified these rights in 1973 and continues to protect them. The IDEA mandates that public K-12 schools identify student’s disabilities and accommodate their needs. It calls for Individualized Education Programs (IEP’s) for disabled K-12 students.

Unfortunately, the IDEA doesn’t apply to college students. However, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 also protects the rights of disabled students. This is a civil rights law that, among other things, prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in Federally funded schools from K-12 on up. Colleges receive Federal funds, so they must comply with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by developing a 504 Plan for disabled student.

The Transition to College

The rights of disabled students change when they enter college as they transition from IDEA to Rehabilitation Act protections.  The differences are shown below in Figure A:

Figure A: Differences Between IEP’s and 504 Plans

                                                                                                   Source: A Day in Your Shoes

IEP’s only cover disabilities that  fit into one of the IDEA eligibility categories. An IEP includes specially designed instruction, has goals, monitors progress, and provides accommodations. Parents are involved in the development of an IEP and meet annually with the school to review progress and consider improvements.

504 Plans are intended to provide accommodations that give disabled students access to an education that is the same as mainstream students. Plans cover all disabilities, but they are not special education programs. They do not include goals or progress monitoring. Colleges do not need to obtain parental input into the development of a 504 Plan and they may change it without parental approval.

Qualifications Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

Section 504 defines someone who is qualified for a 504 Plan in college as an “Individual with a disability … which substantially limits one or more of such person’s major life activities.”  Colleges solicit input from the student’s doctors, family, teachers, and service providers in determining if a 504 Plan is justified, and if so, what it should entail.

Generally speaking, a student qualifies for a 504 Plan if they have physical or mental impairments that affect or limit their ability to:

  • Walk, breathe, eat, or sleep
  • Communicate, see, hear, or speak
  • Read, concentrate, think, or learn
  • Stand, bend, lift, or work

Accommodations Under 504 Plans

There are no specific requirements for what is to be included in a 504 Plan. The goal is for disabled students to be accommodated in such a way that they can be educated on equal terms with other students.

Examples of accommodations that a college may provide include the following:

  • Preferential seating
  • Extended time on tests and assignments
  • Reduced homework or classwork
  • Verbal, visual, or technology aids
  • Modified textbooks or audio-video materials
  • Behavior management support
  • Adjusted class schedules
  • Adjusted grading methodologies
  • Verbal rather than written testing
  • Excused lateness, absence, or missed classwork
  • Pre-approved nurse’s office visits and accompaniment to visits
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy

Colleges develop 504 Plans that they think are reasonable. Each college defines reasonable as they see fit. Some offer the bare minimum while others are more generous.

The 504 Plan Process

A disabled student meets with a coordinator in the college’s Disability Support Services (DSS) office. The coordinator determines if the student meets the requirements of Section 504. If so, he or she develops a 504 Plan for the student.

When the 504 Plan is finalized, a letter stating the accommodations to be provided is given to the student. If the student and their family are dissatisfied with the Plan, they may appeal to the U.S. Office for Civil Rights or the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.

Under a 504 Plan, a disabled student is not guaranteed to progress satisfactorily, as is the case with an IEP. However, at its discretion, a college may pursue a different approach under a new 504 Plan in an attempt to remedy the student’s difficulties.

Disabled college students must become their own advocates in order to ensure that they receive the accommodations to which they’re entitled. Therefore, it’s to their advantage to understand Section 504 and its compliance options.

Support for Students on the Autism Spectrum

The independence of college life creates many decisions that students must make for the first time. This is a challenge for all students, especially those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who face difficulties such as impaired social and communication skills, repetitive behaviors, and narrow interests. These are compounded by the general lack of understanding of ASD among faculty, staff, and peers. As noted above, disabled students are burdened with the need to advocate for themselves, a task that is particularly problematic for ASD students.

Disabled students should research and identify colleges with reputations for welcoming disabled students and providing exceptional support for them. We advise disabled students to apply mainly to colleges that fit this description. In the case of ASD students, at least 60 colleges offer autism support programs such as social skills training, support groups, mentors, tutors trained in working with ASD students, and time-management workshops.


The College Essay

Amid the stress of application season, one task gives seniors more anxiety than any other — their essays.  Unfortunately, some level of anxiety is justified. After an applicant’s academic record, essays are one of the most important factors in admissions, often serving as a tiebreaker among applicants with similar records. But the anxiety is manageable if applicants treat the essay as an ally in their campaign for admission. For this to happen, they need to understand its true role.

Self-Focus is Essential

In writing an essay, applicants should be self-focused and be in tune with what is important to them and what they are passionate about. This seems counterintuitive, but it’s the right way to approach the task. To write a strong essay, students need to look inward. They must tell a story that has their inner thoughts as its core. Admissions Officers (AO)s evaluate essays for what they reveal about the student’s maturity, character, personality, and motivation.  It’s an opportunity to learn something about the student that may not be evident anywhere else in the application.

The essay is a way for applicants to introduce themselves to a college as a person rather than merely a set of numbers. But applicants need to be aware that AOs also expect essays to be intriguing, entertaining, and persuasive rather than erudite. In an essay, applicants are subtly selling themselves through the power of their message. If the message forms a gut-level connection with the reader, the applicant may have an advantage over the competition.

Essay Readers Seek Authenticity  

Applicants should understand that the majority of AO’s are recent graduates only a few years older than they are. They have a similar frame of reference and the same cultural touchstones as applicants, so informality is appropriate.

Essays are not necessarily grammatically correct. Leeway is granted in the use of creative sentence structure and euphemisms. AO’s want to see that the applicant is genuine and is speaking in their authentic voice. The essayist should write as she speaks.

Sometimes, the applicant needs to disregard the conventions of proper English to ensure that their true self is communicated. Remember “Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee”?  OMG! A double negative! But it might be the most successful tag line ever written.

An AO for Tufts who contributes to the university’s blog has this to say about authenticity.

“As the admissions officer reading your application, I need proof – in the form of a written tone that matches your spoken one. As I read through your essay, I am crafting an image in my head of the person who will arrive on our campus in the fall if admitted. Your job is to arm me with examples of who this person is. Do this not just in what you say but how you say it.”

The best essays are often based on the student’s ordinary life experiences and point of view. Just as Seinfeld was famous for being “A show about nothing”, a student essay about nothing is more apt than an attempt at something profound.

Will Geiger, a former AO, has this to say.

Essays don’t have to be about fancy, expensive programs. Often, students write great essays about unimportant everyday things. A strong essay reveals the student’s authentic voice and unique perspective through storytelling.”


There is no magic answer when it comes to topic of the main college essay.  The same topic can produce both a great essay and a lackluster one depending on who is writing it.  The key to success in choosing a topic is finding one that is meaningful to the writer and allows the writer to showcase his/her personal style and what’s important to him/her.

In the case of college specific supplemental essays, it is important to spend the time understanding what a prompt is asking.  It is critical to formulate a response that answers the question in a way that is clear and also reflects the personal style and voice of the student writing it.

Is Humor Appropriate?

Essays are serious business. Even so, an applicant can include a humorous bit; a sentence or two that gets a smile. The AO may remember the line and it will help set a genial tone. Self-deprecating humor is safest. It’s the least likely to be considered offensive to someone, somewhere.

Though it can be beneficial to include humor, it’s not for every student or every essay.  If a student is naturally witty than humor will likely work in getting a point across in an essay.  If not, the humor may seem forced or at times inappropriate. It must also fit well within the essay. If the essay is about a grave topic, it’s best to skip the humor. The applicant must be confident that the bit will help their case and not harm it. If there’s any doubt, it should be omitted.

Who Should Edit?

An applicant can use a copy editor without concern about a breach of ethics. A copy editor proofreads for errors in spelling, punctuation, and word usage. Even the best journalists and authors use a copy editor.

But who should an applicant rely on to critique their essay’s theme, message, and execution. The advice of the Tufts AO is as follows.

Show your essay to two people, and no more: Often the worst thing that can happen to an essay is editing. When you have many different people giving you feedback, you often lose your own voice. You’re hidden behind perfect grammar, sterile language, and phrases thrown in because ‘It’s what admissions officers want to hear.’ Let me demystify something for you: I hate the things you write because it’s what admissions officers want to hear. They’re boring. And forced. And misguided. Show your essays to only two people — one who is a strong writer, and one who knows you very well.”

Start Early

Starting early is a good idea for essays and, for that matter, all tasks related to admissions. The end of junior year is about right for essays. This gives ample time to brainstorm ideas over the summer and to make sure that the chosen theme is consistent with the core message of the entire application.

Most of the colleges’ supplemental essay prompts are not available until August so it is great to have the main essay done by then so students can use the month of August to begin work on college supplements.

Procrastination is especially disastrous in essay writing. No semi-decent essay was ever written during an all-nighter before a deadline. The writer needs sufficient time to be able to walk away from a draft and return to it later, maybe even much later, with fresh eyes. Another great way to see if the essay is ready is to read it out loud – it’s amazing how different something can sound when listened to rather than read.


As part of our comprehensive consulting services at The College Planner, LLC we coach applicants through their essays from brainstorming, theme development, drafts, and editing to final versions. Laura Cubanski is our Essay Specialist who helps students with their main college essay. Laura is highly qualified and truly enjoys assisting seniors in all stages of the essay writing process.

Reviewing the 2021-22 Admissions Results

In only two years, the long-established patterns of college admissions have been completely disrupted. This is widely considered to be a result of the pandemic, but the pandemic only accelerated trends that had been building for a decade.  

A notable effect of the last two admission cycles is that, while the majority of colleges struggled to reverse declining enrollment, top-tier institutions enjoyed a sharp rise in demand. Two distinct models of admissions have evolved — one for top-tier colleges and another for all the rest.  As admission season approaches again, we at The College Planner,LLC advise that high school seniors and their parents understand and plan for the new status quo in admissions.

The Boom in Applications to Top-Tier Institutions

Although college enrollment is down in general, the most highly selective institutions are thriving. Since colleges accept about the same number of freshmen every year, the rising volume of applications submitted to these schools has resulted in plummeting admission rates. As evidence, the number of colleges that admitted less than 10% of their applicants rose from 9 in 2019 to 28 in 2022.

A main cause of this rise in applications is the shift to test-optional admissions policies. The test-optional movement was well underway prior to 2020, but the closure of test centers caused by the pandemic prevented students from taking the SAT and ACT exams that year. This forced even the most prestigious colleges to drop standardized test scores as a requirement for admission. Most colleges have indicated that they will retain their test-optional policies at least through 2023-24 if not indefinitely.

As a result of the adoption of test-optional policies, students aspiring to attend a top-tier school who didn’t perform well on tests saw an opportunity to rely more heavily on other aspects of their academic record like GPA and strength of curriculum. Many of them joined the already high number of applicants seeking admission to top schools. But this simply meant that more applicants would be disappointed, making admission rates fall.

Top-Tier Colleges Are More Selective Than Ever

Table A shows a set of top-tier schools that reported their Class of 2026 admissions data prior to June 30. They are all ranked among the top 50 schools on either the National Universities or National Liberal Arts College rankings in the College Edition of U.S. News & World Report for 2022.Table A shows their increasing selectivity over the last two years.

Table A

Admission Rates at Top-Tier Institutions

2019-20 and 2021-22 Compared

Institution  Number of Applicants  Number Admitted  2019-20 Admit %  2021-22 Admit %
Boston College40,4776,6782416
Boston Univ.80,79211,4341914
Emory (Oxford)20,8322,9322314
Georgia Tech50,6018,6732017
Harvey Mudd4,4405761813
Johns Hopkins37,1002,40896
Notre Dame26,5063,4121713
UNC Chapel Hill57,1984,400258

The Decline in College Enrollment

Despite the upturn in applications at the most highly selective schools, there has been a steady drop in general college enrollment that began well before the pandemic. This decline is the primary reason for the turbulence in admissions at many colleges. Data released in May by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that 662,000 fewer students enrolled in college in spring 2022 than a year earlier, a 5%. Figure A, below, shows that undergraduate enrollment peaked in 2010 at 18.1 million students and fell to 15.9 million in 2020, the last cycle before the pandemic.

                                                                                                         Source: Education Data Initiative

The Financial Condition of Colleges

All indications are that top-tier schools will continue to thrive, but they represent less than 5% of the nearly 4,000 post-secondary institutions in the country. Declining enrollment has devastated the financial stability of many small and mid-sized public and private colleges.

A number of colleges were forced to cease operations prior to and during the pandemic. Another 20% are expected to close their doors in the next few years due to the combined impact of changing demographics, state government disinvestment, unrealistic tuition rates, the lingering effects of the pandemic, and inadequate endowment funds.

Making matters worse is the fact that, for the first time in generations, many Americans are questioning if college is still the path to a secure, well-paying career. According to Stephanie Saul, writing in the New York Times on May 22, “The ongoing enrollment crisis at U.S. colleges and universities deepened in spring 2022, raising concerns that a fundamental shift is taking place in attitudes toward the value of a college degree.”  

According to Inside Higher Education, the outlook for enrollment looks even dimmer as we approach a “demographic cliff” in 2025, when a 15% drop in high school seniors is expected as a result of the reduced birth rate during and after the 2008 recession.

The precariousness of the finances of many schools should concern students and families who are now researching colleges. To the intimidating set of variables already involved should be added the financial condition of the schools on a student’s College List.

Do Admission Rates Matter?

Trends in admissions aren’t something that families can afford to ignore. Admission rates are a key factor in the calculation of college rankings. Although rankings are an imperfect measure of a college’s quality, they serve many people as a proxy for quality. Since rankings affect the level of demand for a college, they also impact its financial viability.

Students shouldn’t throw more than a couple of applications atop the pile at highly competitive “dream” schools. Instead, they should seek admission to sound, reputable, colleges that must increase their enrollment. In addition to a more welcoming set of acceptance criteria, these schools are strongly inclined to provide financial aid in order to increase their tuition revenue. 

As experienced college admissions consultants, the professionals at The College Planner understand the new landscape of college admissions. We guide our students through the maze of admissions all the way to enrollment in the college that fits them just right. The College Planner has placed students in a wide range of excellent colleges including Tufts, Northeastern, Catholic University, Skidmore, Boston University, Boston College, Brown, Fairfield, Fordham, Holy Cross, Colby, George Washington, William & Mary, Penn State, Villanova, Wake Forest, and many others.

Common App 2021-2022 Essay Prompts Announced!

2021-2022 Common App Essay Prompts

By Scott Anderson – February 16, 2021


The Common App essay prompts will remain the same for 2021-2022 with one exception. We will retire the seldom used option about solving a problem and replace it with the following:

Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

We will also retain the optional COVID-19 question within the Additional Information section.

The new prompt is inspired by scientific research on gratitude and kindness, specifically the benefits of writing about the positive influence of other people in our lives.

This mindset resonates with Common App President & CEO Jenny Rickard. “Particularly at this challenging time, we can help students think about something positive and heartfelt in their lives,” she explains. “And we can do it explicitly.”

“Particularly at this challenging time, we can help students think about something positive and heartfelt in their lives. And we can do it explicitly.”Jenny Rickard, President & CEO, Common App

In crafting the new option, we relied on the expertise of counselors and admission officers on our Outreach and Application Advisory Committees, along with input from psychology and gratitude researchers. Together, these educators understand the ingredients of a successful essay prompt. The final language they helped to shape balances flexibility with direction. They believe the new choice will generate stories that students are inspired to write and that colleges are excited to read.

An essay prompt can’t erase the loss and anxiety of the last 12 months, but it can validate the importance of gratitude and kindness. We hope students see the new prompt for what it is intended to be: an invitation to bring some joy into their application experience.

Below is the full set of essay prompts for 2021-2022.

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

“As a member of the Common Application Advisory Committee, I appreciated learning about the careful and deliberative process, involving a variety of counseling and student stakeholders, to recommend these revisions to the essay prompts. During these difficult times, it will be encouraging for students and those reviewing these essay responses to be reminded of the joy and hope that generosity and gratitude can foster.”Sacha Thieme, Assistant Vice Provost & Executive Director of Admissions, Indiana University

College Board to Stop Offering SAT Subject Tests and SAT Optional Essay


COLLEGE BOARD January 19, 2021

As students and colleges adapt to new realities and changes to the college admissions process, College Board is making sure our programs adapt with them. We’re making some changes to reduce demands on students.

We are no longer offering SAT Subject Tests in the U.S. Because SAT Subject Tests are used internationally for a wider variety of purposes, we’ll provide two more administrations, in May and June of 2021, for international students.  

  • Students currently registered for an upcoming Subject Test in the U.S. will automatically have their registration canceled and fees refunded.
  • Students who are currently registered for, or plan to register for, an upcoming Subject Test outside the U.S. can still test through the June 2021 administration. Students who no longer want to take Subject Tests can contact Customer Service to cancel and receive a refund.

We’ve reached out to our member colleges and they’ll decide whether and how to consider students’ Subject Test scores. Students should check colleges’ websites for the most up-to-date information on their application policies.

We will also discontinue the optional SAT Essay after the June 2021 administration.

  • Students who are currently registered, or plan to register, for an upcoming SAT with Essay will still be able to test through the June 2021 administration. Students who prefer to cancel the optional Essay portion of their SAT can do so in their online account, with no change fees, until the registration deadline.
  • After June 2021, the Essay will only be available in states where it’s required as part of SAT School Day administrations. Students scheduled to take the SAT on a school day should check with their school about whether the Essay will be included.

Writing remains essential to college readiness and the SAT will continue to measure writing and editing skills, but there are other ways for students to demonstrate their mastery of essay writing, and the SAT will continue to measure writing throughout the test. The tasks on the SAT Reading and Writing and Language sections are among the most effective and predictive parts of the SAT.

What is the current 2021 SAT administration schedule?

You can find SAT test dates and deadlines here.

When will registration open for fall 2021 and spring 2022 SAT administrations?

Registration for fall 2021 and spring 2022 will open in June 2021.

Why are you discontinuing SAT Subject Tests?

We’re reducing demands on students. The expanded reach of AP and its widespread availability means the Subject Tests are no longer necessary for students to show what they know.

What should I do if I’m already registered for or was planning to take SAT Subject Tests?

Students in the U.S. who registered for the May and/or June 2021 Subject Tests will automatically have their registrations canceled and fees refunded. No further action is needed. If you were planning to submit Subject Test scores, check directly with the colleges you plan to apply to for alternative ways to strengthen your applications.

Students outside the U.S. can still take SAT Subject Tests in May and/or June 2021. Check with the colleges you plan to apply to for their SAT Subject Test policy so you can decide whether Subject Test scores will be valuable to you. If you no longer want to take Subject Tests, you can contact Customer Service to cancel your registration and get a refund or change your registration to take the SAT. The best way to contact Customer Service is to call +1-212-713-7789 (international). Customer Service hours are 9 a.m.–6 p.m. ET, Monday–Friday. If you can’t call, email customer service at sat@info.collegeboard.org and be sure to include the following information: test month, test year, first name, last name, full address, date of birth, and name of school.

When will registration for international students who want to take Subject Tests in May and June be cut off?

International SAT and SAT Subject Tests Administration dates and deadlines can be found here.

Why do international students still get to take SAT Subject Tests through June, but U.S. students don’t?

Subject Tests are used internationally for a wider variety of purposes, such as advanced standing/placement at universities and local credential equivalences for entering colleges and/or as credentials for international students planning to study in some countries.

I’m in the U.S. Should I travel abroad to take the Subject Tests internationally?

International administrations are for students who live outside the United States.

I’ve already taken SAT Subject Tests. Will colleges still accept those scores?

We’ve reached out to our member colleges, and they’ll decide whether and how to consider students’ Subject Test scores. Students should check colleges’ websites for the most up-to-date information on their application policies.

How long will score sending for SAT Subject Tests be an option?

Students can continue sending their Subject Test scores.

How can I show my skills in specific subject areas without the opportunity to take SAT Subject Tests?

We’ve continued to enrich and expand access to AP courses, which let students showcase their skills through challenging coursework. Many colleges already use AP course participation and exam score as indicators of a student’s ability and interest in a particular subject area. And colleges also have access to information about student performance in key subject areas through their SAT scores, high school transcript, course selection, and other measures. Check directly with the colleges you plan to apply to for alternative ways to strengthen your applications.

Why are you discontinuing the optional SAT Essay?

We’re adapting to respond to the changing needs of students and colleges. This change simply streamlines the process for students who have other, more relevant opportunities to show they can write an essay as part of the work they’re already doing on their path to college.

What should I do if I’m already registered for or was planning to take the optional SAT Essay?

Students can still take the optional SAT with Essay through the June 2021 administration. Check with the colleges you plan to apply to for their SAT Essay policy so you can decide whether taking the optional SAT Essay will be valuable to you. If you no longer want to take the optional Essay portion of your SAT, you can cancel in your online account, with no change fees, until the registration deadline. For information on how to add the Essay to your SAT registration, visit collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/register/policies-requirements/changes.

Will colleges still consider Essay scores if I submit them?

Check with the colleges you’re interested in about their policies. If you take the SAT with Essay, colleges may consider your scores as part of their holistic review process. Students registered for the SAT with Essay can cancel the Essay portion if they choose to.

What Students and Colleges Should Know

More than 250 admissions deans issue statement valuing self-care and family care — and urging students to share the context to understand their situations.

June 30, 2020

The college admissions cycle that is (slowly) finishing for students entering in the fall has been unlike anything admissions officers have seen before. With campuses empty, colleges had to recruit admitted applicants without being able to do anything in person. A further complication was that most students applied before the pandemic but were asked to commit to a college as coronavirus spread. One way or another, the process is coming a close over the summer.

But as unusual as this year has been, admissions officials are gearing up for one that may be more challenging. In the upcoming cycle, some students will still be studying online, some students physically in their high schools and some in a combination of the two. They will be looking at colleges in every state of operation — with some planning for classes in person, some not and some planning for a combination. Students’ families have been suffering as well — from the health impacts of COVID-19 and the economic impact of the pandemic and the recession.

As a result, more than 250 admissions deans (and the number is growing) have come together with the Making Caring Common project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to issue “Care Counts in Crisis: College Admissions Deans Respond to COVID-19.”

In the document, the admissions officials attempt to reassure students — and themselves — about what’s really important this year.

The first item mentioned in the statement is self-care.

Self-care is of high importance, especially in times of crisis,” the deans write. “We recognize that many students, economically struggling and facing losses and hardships of many kinds, are simply seeking to get by. We also recognize that this time is stressful and demanding for a wide range of students for many different reasons. We encourage all students to be gentle with themselves during this time.”

Next is academic work, but with reference to what students may not be able to do. “We will assess your academic achievements in the context of these obstacles. In addition, we will assess your academic achievements mainly based on your academic performance before and after this pandemic. No student will be disadvantaged because of a change in commitments or a change in plans because of this outbreak, their school’s decisions about transcripts, the absence of AP or IB tests, their lack of access to standardized tests (although many of the colleges represented here don’t require these tests) or their inability to visit campus. We will also view students in the context of the curriculum, academic resources, and supports available to them.”

Then the deans turn to service. They endorse the idea of serving those in need but are realistic about possibilities for students in stress. They conclude by saying, “No student will be disadvantaged during this time who is not in a position to provide these contributions. We will review these students for admissions in terms of other aspects of their applications.”

The deans also care about families. “Many students may be supervising younger siblings, for example, or caring for sick relatives or working to provide family income, and we recognize that these responsibilities may have increased during these times,” they write. “We view substantial family contributions as very important, and we encourage students to report them in their applications. It will only positively impact the review of their application.”

And the deans conclude with extracurricular activities. “No student will be disadvantaged for not engaging in extracurricular activities during this time. We also understand that many plans for summer have been impacted by this pandemic and students will not be disadvantaged for lost possibilities for involvement,” they write. “Potential internship opportunities, summer jobs, camp experiences, classes, and other types of meaningful engagement have been cancelled or altered. We have never had specific expectations for any one type of extracurricular activities or summer experience and realize that each student’s circumstances allow for different opportunities.”

There are signatories from every Ivy League institution, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago; from leading liberal arts colleges such as Bowdoin, Carleton, Colorado, Davidson, Haverford, Swarthmore and Williams Colleges; and from public research universities like the University of Arizona, Colorado at Boulder, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon and Texas at Austin.

E. Whitney Soule, senior vice president and dean of admissions and student aid at Bowdoin, said via email that the statement aims to help students.

“Without COVID-19, there is already plenty of anxiety churning for students preparing to apply to college. There’s the anxiety around which courses and how many, which tests and how many, which activities and should they be broad or deep?” said Soule. “And all of those questions swirl around an anxious exercise of trying to estimate and maximize chances of admission. For many students, the interference of COVID-19 doesn’t interrupt that anxiety circuit, it powers it. The point of this deans’ statement is to explicitly state that we understand, that we already apply context to our review, and that we will apply flexibility to meet that context in application review. I hope that our written statement is reassuring and can reduce anxiety.”

Rachelle Hernandez, senior vice provost for enrollment management and student success at the University of Texas at Austin, said, “We don’t want students worrying that limitations to their activities, or other opportunities due to the pandemic, will negatively impact them or our consideration of their application. We hope the statement is encouraging to high school students and their families, and importantly conveys that we value the many ways that students are continuing to prepare for their futures, despite the challenges of the pandemic, by successfully completing their coursework, taking care of themselves, and helping their families or volunteering in their communities.”

Stuart Schmill, dean of admissions and student financial services at MIT, said, “I signed the deans’ statement because I believe that the most important thing for students to do right now is to take care of themselves and those around them, and not to overworry about how this will all affect their college application. Collaborative statements may have more impact than individual voices.”

Richard Weissbourd, a senior lecturer in education at Harvard University, who helped coordinate the effort, said it was intended “to help students and parents who were unclear about what was expected” and also admissions leaders themselves. “They have statements about self-care in their websites but want to state what it means.”

To Weissbourd, the biggest thematic item out of the statement was about context. “We’re not trying to create a pandemic service Olympics,” he said. “But we want students to talk about themselves,” and that includes things like caring for family members who are sick or lost their jobs. Students have been taught not to reveal such information, he said.

The real question, he said, is whether different students will be admitted than would have been otherwise. “I don’t know,” he said.


excerpts from article by Mark H. Sklarow, CEO, IECA

By now, most independent educational consultants (IECs) who work with college bound students have heard that NACAC has reached an agreement with the Department of Justice that eliminates several provisions of the NACAC SPGP. The DOJ argued that some of these rules—those requiring colleges to restrict recruitment efforts—constituted collusion or restrained trade.

Many IECA members have asked for guidance on what they might expect or “what to tell client families” so they are not blind-sided as the rules that colleges have followed for years become relaxed. I think there are two specific bits of information IECs and families should know:

1. Colleges for years have agreed to a universal response date, the date by which students would commit to a college for the fall. Colleges had agreed to rules that prohibited them from trying to “poach” a student who had made a commitment elsewhere. Meaning, colleges would not pursue a student who committed to attend elsewhere, including a prohibition of incentives to change their mind (like a last-minute bump in financial aid).

This rule will end. So, what will happen? We really don’t know. Most organizations, like the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and IECA believe most colleges will, at least initially, voluntarily keep to this rule. Yet we know that any college that fails to achieve enrollment numbers may feel compelled to recruit past a student’s personal decision or beyond the May 1 deadline. Like the proverbial leak in the dam, what we don’t know is if a few colleges pursuing students will result in an all-out effort to recruit already committed students.

We also don’t know yet if colleges will take actions proactively to protect students that commit. For example, I predict that deposits may well increase from the hundreds to a thousand dollars or more, all to make it less likely that students will casually accept offers late in the year with a new pursuer, post-commitment. Likewise, housing deposits and fees could increase. Thus, while some colleges may pursue students who have committed elsewhere, other colleges may work to make a student think hard before making an expensive decision to change their commitment.

Other questions will be left to IECs to consider. If colleges can seek to recruit students who have already deposited, will our advice that students may not double deposit or admonitions that once you accept you must withdraw applications elsewhere, still be valid? Will this lead to a “second season” of admission where students are free to negotiate for their best deal?

2. The second area that the Justice Department secured a change was in recruitment of students applying under a binding “Early Decision.” The rule had been that colleges could not use special incentives to entice students to apply early—and commit—since this was binding. For example, colleges were precluded from using special Early Decision scholarships, or early decision priority for dorms or classes.

These rules, too, are now gone. Colleges may begin to offer incentives to apply under a binding ED, and there are signs that colleges are exploring this. Again, we hope that such incentives don’t become widespread, but I suspect it will happen. We know that Early Decision is a serious commitment, and as such, a decision should be done upon thoughtful and careful planning with an IEC when there is a clear first choice, not merely because an incentive is put on the table.

Once again, IECs will have to ponder the advice they give to students. Such incentives could become one more variable to consider in the process.


US News & World Report publishes great article about choosing a College Consultant

U.S. News & World Report Homepage

What to Look For When Hiring a College Consultant

A consultant should help reduce anxiety for parents and students during the college admissions process.

By Josh Moody, Reporter April 4, 2019, at 11:43 a.m.

OPERATION VARSITY Blues, as the FBI dubbed it, is the college admissions scandal heard around the world.

The alleged bribery scheme to help the children of wealthy parents get into elite institutions ensnared Hollywood actresses, business moguls and college coaches accused of helping rig the system by creating a “side door” into schools, circumventing the normal admissions process. Working with an independent college counselor, parents allegedly tried to gain an edge by having students admitted as athletes – despite not playing sports – and changing their standardized test scores.

Now the scandal has cast college consulting in a negative light, prompting some professionals to call for a recommitment to ethics in the industry.

“This is an unfortunate example of the lengths to which people will go to circumvent and manipulate the college admission process, particularly to gain admission to highly selective colleges,” Stefanie Niles, National Association for College Admission Counseling president and vice president for enrollment and communications at Ohio Wesleyan University, said in a news release.

The scandal prompted similar criticism from others in the space. American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers Executive Director Michael Reilly said in a statement, “This behavior compromises the integrity of college admissions and reinforces stereotypes that people of privilege can circumvent the rules. It undermines public confidence in our institutions.”

As its moment in the spotlight arrives, the college consulting industry is booming both domestically and internationally.

Data from the Independent Educational Consultant Association, a nonprofit professional organization, show a 400 percent increase in domestic independent educational consultants since 2005. In that same time, the number of international consultants grew by 1,000 percent.

To Mark Sklarow, IECA chief executive officer, this is the most explosive scandal he’s seen in the admissions world since he began working with the nonprofit 25 years ago. The actions taken by the educational consultant at the center of the Varsity Blues case are in direct contrast to IECA ethics, which specifically bar admission guarantees and emphasize truthful, accurate application materials.

“We want to make sure that if a family hires a member of our association, that they’re really knowledgeable, well trained, ethical, competent, all the things that you would expect,” Sklarow says. He adds that in the absence of state licensure for independent educational consultants, IECA has adopted that role of arbiter, setting standards and practices.

For parents planning to hire an independent educational consultant, Sklarow has advice on what to look for…  link to the article  https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2019-04-04/what-to-look-for-when-hiring-a-college-consultant