New Era of Holistic Criteria Is Good News for Applicants 

Jeffrey Hirsch is a high school counselor in Westchester and owner of College Starter, a college counseling practice. He lives in Croton and can be reached at

As a high school counselor here in Westchester County and owner of a college counseling business, I have been getting a lot of questions about what changes we will see on the horizon in college admissions. 

In many weays, college admissions will never be the same.  

Colleges that are test-optional — letting students decide whether or not to submit standardized test scores — may never return to requiring them if the data shows the option did not adversely affect the caliber of their recruited class.  

Colleges that are used to seeing students who have a buffet of extracurricular activities, from sports to clubs, will see applicants who rely on less traditional activities to showcase their talents and interests (pandemic bread-making, anyone?).  


The importance of the college essay and supplemental responses, always a major point of emphasis for college admissions, will only increase as colleges look for personal stories to learn more about each student.  

All these developments are good news for students, and force colleges to lean into their oft-claimed “holistic approach” to admissions. 

On the macro level, however, college admissions, with all its flaws, will remain the same, especially at “brand name” colleges. The emphasis remains squarely on grades and course rigor. For instance, how challenging are your classes and how well are you doing in them?  

Early Decision plans will become more appealing to admissions officers

That can hinder students in high schools that do not offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses, especially if the student does not submit standardized test scores. The SAT and ACT are simply not going to slink off into the night so quietly.  


A strong test score can be hugely beneficial for an applicant, especially at more selective schools. That puts us right back into the conversation about the haves vs. the have nots.  

Early Decision application plans, a sound strategyfor the right applicant, but one that limits lowerincome students, will become even more enticing to college admissions officers. Early Decision plans are binding andgenerally have a significantly higher acceptance rate than Regular Decision plans. Since it is a binding agreement, colleges can count on that student attending (and their money). 

Will it be harder for your kid to get into college? My short answer is no. By creating a balanced list of 8-10 schools, students will end up with multiple colleges to choose from when the acceptance letters have finished coming in.  

That formula never fails to deliver. 

Join this discussion during my free webinar on Tuesday, Feb. 23, at 8 p.m.  

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About the Author: Jeffrey Hirsch