The University Network

The Impact Of COVID On Ivy League Admissions — Interview With Eric Eng, Founder Of IvyCollegeAdmit

TUN sits down with Eric Eng, the founder of IvyCollegeAdmit, a consultancy geared towards helping students be admitted to highly selective institutions, to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on Ivy League admissions and offer some advice to students applying this fall. 

TUN: Eric, thanks so much for joining us. 

ENG: Thanks for having me, Jackson. I’m excited to share some insights about college admissions. 

TUN: Do you believe it’s going to be harder for this year’s seniors to be admitted to the Ivies and other selective institutions, as schools like Harvard are reporting that 20 percent of first-year students have deferred their admissions?

ENG: I think that’s a great question. And, I think this really hinges on many different things, the biggest factor being the current state of the pandemic. 

Imagine if, tomorrow, we come up with the vaccine and everything is good. Then, absolutely, I think the acceptance rates will be much lower because, as you rightly stated, 20 percent of the incoming class deferred their admissions. 

If this pandemic drags on for the next three years, who’s to say next year’s class won’t also defer their admissions, right? So we have this one-off effect, and I think, given the current trajectory of COVID, it’s likely that next year’s class may defer their admissions as well, so we won’t really see too much of an impact there because of those counter effects.

But, what I really want to look at is this. If you just look at last year’s data, for instance, all the acceptance rates at the Ivies rose, except for Princeton. So, Brown, Harvard, Dartmouth all those acceptance rates actually ticked up slightly, due to the applicant pool. 

So, what I’m really interested in is the economic impact of COVID for this year. Fewer low-income students will be able to apply. So, actually, I’m actually forecasting a continued increase — a slight increase — in acceptance rates. 

TUN: All of the Ivies aren’t requiring students to submit SAT and ACT scores this year. So, for those who have not taken a test yet, should they still?

ENG: Absolutely. I get this trend toward being test-optional due to COVID this year. Also, many of these universities, in the past, have said that these exams penalize low-income students and favor upper-middle-class students. So, I think a lot of universities are going toward this trend that you don’t need to take these exams anymore. 

But, from an admissions standpoint, and behind closed doors, I can tell you that the more data that you provide to the admissions committee, the better. If you compare apples to apples — a student who does have a 1550 on the SAT versus another student who never took the exam — I’m going to argue that the student with the 1550 will have a higher shot at getting in. So, if you could show the data, that would be great. 

But, there are some changes this year for SAT subject tests. In particular, Yale and MIT announced that they’re not considering the SAT subject test at all. You can’t even submit them. They’re not just optional, but you’re not allowed to submit those scores, period.

So, it’s going to be interesting to see within the next few months and the next year or so if other schools will follow suit.

TUN: Aside from standardized testing, are there any other big changes to Ivy League admissions this year that students should be aware of?

ENG: Yeah. There is now a 250-word essay specifically asking how you have been impacted by COVID that the student has to address, which is new in the application. 

Besides that … the big factor was really just the standardized testing optional requirement. 

TUN: It’s a very strange and unpredictable year. What should seniors who aspire to be admitted to an Ivy League school, or another highly selective institution, be doing right now to improve their chances? 

I know that, in the past, you’ve explained that a perfect GPA and a great test score alone or not necessarily enough to get you in. So what else can students do?

ENG: Exactly. So, we’re in the middle of August now, which really means it’s crunch time. Applications are right around the corner. 

I’ve always argued that a strong application could get a weak student in, and a weak application could keep a strong student out. We’ve seen that time and time again. So, given that applications are due right around the corner, the personal statement here is key. 

For seniors who are applying this year, I would really double down on crafting together a compelling narrative and application to reflect your candidacy, reflect the shift in your perspectives and what you bring to the admissions committee. Because, now that all these universities are going test-optional, that places greater weight on the applications, the personal statements, the letters of recommendation and those other factors that will bring to light your profile to the admissions committee. 

TUN: Thanks again, Eric, for taking the time to join us.

ENG: Thank you for having me, Jackson.

This interview has been edited for clarity. Watch the full video here.