Since March, the days, weeks and months have all seemed to roll into each other. Most certainly, we have all experienced disruptions to our lives. Perhaps that means we should raise a new set of questions and look for a different framing of answers.
With a new academic year underway, I would like take a moment to directly address some of the questions that are most topical for this year’s group of secondary school seniors.
Will gap year requests impact my chances for admission?
In short, probably not. Although 200 gap year requests were approved this past year at Penn (compared to 50 or so in prior years), there is a good chance we will need to admit a similar number of students that we have in a ‘normal’ year to meet our enrollment targets and not try to overcompensate for any one year fluctuation. Yield is unpredictable. We admitted nearly 400 students from the wait list this year and I expect that we may see further ‘melt’ over the academic year. For the current seniors, this isn’t going to be a major weight on the decision scale.
Is test optional really optional?
No family should feel compelled to have their child sit for an in-person exam to, theoretically, increase their chances for admission. Furthermore, we do not want educators within schools to feel pressured to put themselves at risk by proctoring exams. Penn will not require applicants to submit the SAT, ACT or SAT Subject Tests for the 2020-2021 application cycle. Applicants who do not submit SAT, ACT or SAT Subject Test scores will not be at a disadvantage in the admissions process.
How will you evaluate my application absent of testing and extracurricular engagement – and based on grading changes between junior and senior year?
There has never been a magical rubric for admission: A plus B plus C will lead us to a Decision. While the lack of predictability is the most frustrating part of the admissions process, it also means that there are opportunities for students to present themselves in an authentic manner that is true to who they are.
That said, your transcript is going to matter—freshman through senior year. While we recognize the COVID-19 disruption, there is still an academic record presented on your transcript that can be assessed by admissions officers.
Similarly, while some extracurricular activities have been upended, there is still a record of how you chose to spend your time and what adjustments you have made based on your interests and opportunities available to you.
This process should always be a time of reflection, and I believe that to be true this year more than ever. Ask yourself what matters to you? I mean, what really matters to you? Have you been forced to rethink your priorities? Your interests? How and where you want to spend your time?
Now, back to you as a counselor.
For your students, this may also mean that a college or university will be on their list for very different reasons. Some academic areas may be of more interest now based on inquisitiveness around scientific inquiry or the political process and social policy, as a few examples. The geographic radius for the college search may have expanded or contracted. Job loss may have reprioritized the need for scholarships and aid with college cost as a point of family discussion.
Regardless, your students are fortunate to have you as an educator in their lives. I hope these reflections are helpful to you and to them.
With my sincerest gratitude.
Eric J. Furda C’87
Dean of Admissions