April 8, 2024

A Year of Change and What’s Next

It seems like every day there is a new announcement about colleges adjusting their policies for admissions. Some of these changes can be helpful for students—making the process more straight-forward or removing some requirements—but the immediate aftermath of the decision can still be confusing. People ask themselves: What if I am missing something? Have there been other changes I should be aware of? Will this impact my chances of enrollment?

In this blog, we’ll talk briefly about major changes to look out for, along with some specific examples to help you know which colleges are affected by these policies. We hope this information can guide you along your college journey, but remember if you are still confused you can always reach out to a Class 101 college advisor.

To Test or Not to Test? That Is The Question.

One of the most significant debates roiling college admissions right now involves testing. During the worst phases of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, colleges and universities suspended requirements that students submit SAT and ACT test scores with their applications. Some universities, like the University of California school system, went further and announced they would stop asking for test scores and stop looking at them—permanently.

According to the Common App, the number of colleges requiring standardized test scores dropped from 55% in 2019 to only 5% in 2021. While the number of students taking tests has since rebounded slightly,  records from 2023-2024 indicated that more students chose not to report scores than those who did.

But in certain parts of the country, this might be changing once again.

As colleges have dropped their COVID-era policies, many schools  have brought back testing requirements. Yale, Brown, and Dartmouth now expect test scores to be submitted with applications. Outside the Ivy League, UT Austin, MIT, and the University of Dallas have similarly restored testing requirements. 

Public universities, meanwhile, remain a mess of different policies. As the Washington Post reported, the University of Tennessee requires tests. Michigan is test-optional. California is test blind, meaning they will refuse to look at any test scores submitted.

All these changes, on top of major changes to the SAT which we detailed previously, can be confusing for families.

Writes and Wrongs

If you have followed the news, you may have heard about new artificial intelligence-driven chatbots such as ChatGPT, Bard, Bing AI, and Claude. Driven by large stores of information collected from the open web, these tools have major leaps and bounds in their ability to produce seemingly nuanced content in response to complex prompts.

Unfortunately, there’s been indications that many people are using it to take shortcuts. In high schools and colleges around the country, teachers have flagged students using it to complete homework and essays. Many academics view it as a major threat to the way they teach and a potential issue of plagiarism—as AI outputs depend on material that has already been published.

Similar concerns have plagued admissions offices. In January, the Washington Post used ChatGPT to write a Harvard application essay.

While the results of AI-generated prompts can often be awkward, incorrect, or underwhelming (one admissions officer described the essays they generate as “terrible”; a New York Magazine piece noted that results were often “banal” and “empty”), universities are already starting to take proactive policies to counteract their potential use.

Duke University, for example, will de-emphasize the value of an applicants’ essay when making admissions decisions, arguing that essays are no longer “an accurate reflection of the student’s actual writing ability.” Other colleges are reportedly considering similar steps, asking whether they can continue to test for grammar or whether they should change policies to look more at content.

It remains unclear what these new changes will bring.

The Twilight of Legacy Admissions

One aspect of college admissions that has been under particular scrutiny in recent years is legacy admissions, sometimes also known as “legacy preferences” or “alumni connections.”

As U.S. News & World Report characterizes it, legacy refers to “a boost in a prospective student’s odds of admission to a college just because the applicant is related to an alumnus, usually a parent or grandparent.” As long as the applicant is “somewhat in the ballpark” of the requirements, legacy admissions can greatly ease the process of getting accepted.

Top schools such as Yale, Cornell, Duke, Brown, Vanderbilt, Emory, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, and Dartmouth all claim to consider legacy ties when making application decisions.

Yet, there is mounting pressure to eliminate the practice. According to the US Department of Education, legacy preferences “can hinder socioeconomic and racial diversity and further benefit privileged students instead of expanding opportunity.” Many activists argue that it does not allow students to be evaluated on their own merits but instead on their family connections.

Across the United States, there’s been a bipartisan effort to limit or restrict legacy admissions. Colorado banned legacy admissions two years ago, which some supporters say is encouraging more first-generation college students to apply.

 In Virginia, the governor signed a bill into law that would prohibit the use of legacy admissions at public colleges and universities. The decision was supported on bipartisan lines.

New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts and others are considering their own bans while prestigious universities themselves face mounting pressure from their own students to end the practice. Only time can tell whether they will succeed.


These are only a few of the major changes affecting the college application process but there are far more. The University of Texas, Austin now discourages letters of recommendations from teachers. The University of Tennessee dropped its acceptance rate and is now putting additional priority on in-state applicants. Other colleges are experimenting with new ways to reimagine the application process.

These changes can be difficult and stressful for families who are going through the college journey. That’s why we highly encourage parents and students to sign up for a meeting with a Class 101 College Advisor. In a one-on-one meeting, we’ll tell you what’s happening at the schools you are interested in and how you can make yourself stand out from the pack.

Sign up for a meeting with a Class 101 College Advisor today.

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