College Admissions Success: Class of 2020

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Julia de Raadt
Julia de Raadt

Julia has dedicated much of her career to education. Since commencing with Empowerly, Julia has looked after the research team which handles student questions on different topics about college admission.

College admissions in 2020 was a new era. Every year our senior class waits anxiously to hear back from the colleges they applied to.

So too does the Empowerly community, having worked with each student over the course of their high school journey. Empowerly has one objective in mind when college decisions begin to roll in: to see our students get accepted into colleges which will challenge them to grow as a student and launch them into a career that is meaningful and fulfilling.

As a result, we turn to the numbers. A crucial part of decision-time is gathering our students results. This exercise provides us with not only the opportunity to celebrate our students’ successes, but also analyze application outcomes, evaluate our own services and better understand college admission trends. 

The collection of this data can inform decision-making

Data is, of course, important. Counselors can guide their students on college choice according to the results of previous students, ensuring that the colleges they apply to best align with their academic profile and interests. Furthermore, it allows us to check on our own performance, and evaluate how this year’s results stack up against previous years. Finally, we can look at the big picture and observe college admissions 2020 trends, and factors that may have driven those trends. 

Our students attend the top colleges in the nation.

The Class of 2020 submitted over 800 applications with most applying to some of the most competitive colleges in the nation. The largest proportion of applications were submitted to the University of California with a slightly smaller pool applying to other top research universities popular for their STEM programs, like the University of Michigan, University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign, University of Pennsylvania, Cornell and the University of Washington. Most of our students applied STEM-related majors including engineering, computer science and some unique majors such as Berkeley’s Management, Entrepreneurship & Technology program and the Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology at University of Pennsylvania. 

In general just over half of our students applications were accepted into these competitive colleges achieving an overall 53% success rate. 98% percent of our students got into a top 100 college. The colleges with the highest acceptance rates were also some of the most competitive.

Empowerly rateAverage rateEmpowerly Advantage
Rice50%10%5x
Vanderbilt50%11%5x
Duke30%7%4x
NYU64%15%4x
Caltech25%6%4x
Harvey Mudd50%13%4x
Carnegie Mellon60%17%4x
Georgetown50%15%3x
UC Berkeley38%15%3x
College Admissions 2020

Empowerly students increase acceptance chances into an Ivy League by 1.5 times in 2020.

The Ivy Leagues are among some of the hardest colleges to get into, with only seven percent of applicants getting admission offers. This year our students outperformed the average by 1.5 times, with 10% receiving offers. These were the standouts.

Empowerly rateAverage rateEmpowerly advantage
Columbia25%6.1%4x
Cornell15%10.6%1.5x
Harvard13%4.9%3x
Yale14%6.5%2x
College Admissions 2020

2020 Empowerly students awarded $1.2 million in scholarships.

Not only did our students report outstanding success in their college applications, but also their scholarship applications. This year our students were offered the equivalent of $1.2 million in merit-based scholarships over four years including three full-ride scholarships. This is equivalent to $25,000 each year for students awarded scholarships funding which is more than double the national average of $11,300.

College Admissions 2020

While these figures paint a positive picture of our students´ success, can the data provide us insights into the makeup of a successful application versus an unsuccessful application? Are there any emerging trends present in the data and what are the drivers? Did the pandemic have an effect on admission trends this year?

The effects of the pandemic:

The Class of 2020, unlike any other, had to contend with an emerging pandemic as they finalized their applications and awaited college offers. As a result, many more of our students found themselves waitlisted or deferred compared to previous years. The pandemic also influenced college choice with students prolonging their decisions due to uncertainty, and in some cases, cost and distance were weighted more heavily in choice of college. 

Standardized testing is less important than GPA.

The pandemic also caused some sweeping changes to testing policies, which temporarily removed the requirement of standardized testing for most colleges. While this effect did not play out for the Class of 2020, the move away from standardized testing has been a growing trend and could be observed in our data. We found there was less correlation between acceptance and standardized testing compared to GPA. For those colleges that our students most commonly applied to, we found higher instances of rejection among students with perfect SAT scores than students with a perfect GPA. 

While the GPA can provide some indication of a student’s chances of acceptance, it is one of many factors and can by no means guarantee acceptance.  When an applicant has a perfect GPA and test scores in the 98-99th percentile, acceptances will still vary across the board. 

What then are other determinants of success in the application?

Extracurriculars count!

There is a widely held view that extracurriculars are integral to student formation and academic endeavors including college admission success. College admissions boards are not just interested in academics, but also the pursuit of extracurricular activities that allow students to develop and further deepen their passions. We have found that students with long-standing participation in quality activities demonstrate a deeper understanding of the subject matter and tend to present stronger applications than students who have participated in few activities out of the classroom or a bucket list of activities spanning a broad number of interests. This is evidenced in the many of the extracurricular activities our students participated in and can be illustrated in the following  case study. This student from the Class of 2020 demonstrates that the depth and duration of quality extracurriculars can be impactful and make an application stand out. 

Example: a case study

Our student was admitted into four Ivy Leagues as well as several other highly competitive colleges.  While this student’s academic profile was near perfect, most other competitive applicants would have had similar academic profiles for such hyper competitive colleges. So what made this student stand out from the rest? This student, who was a part of the Empowerly community throughout their high school education, had been involved in a remarkable number of quality activities demonstrating both depth of knowledge and consistent, long-standing participation in a select number of interests: math, science, piano and tennis. Each activity related to one of these interests and included: 

  • long-standing membership and president of three high school clubs; 
  • competing and placing in several highly respected international and national math competitions; 
  • undertaking scientific research at a local university; and 
  • extensive volunteer service including a monetary award in recognition of their service.

No doubt these activities weighed heavily in admission deliberations and distinguished this student’s application from the rest. 

Interested in viewing a more detailed data report on how Empowerly’s class of 2020 rocked the college admissions cycle? Empowerly graphics superhero put it all together for you. Dig in!

Measuring an applicant’s qualitative characteristics using the Empowerly Score:

If qualitative aspects can really set a student apart from the rest, how does Empowerly measure these when estimating college admission chances?

About the Empowerly Score

Leveraging the experience of Empowerly and tested against our own archive of student profiles, the Empowerly Score can take the guesswork out of the equation by not only measuring academics and test scores, but also subjective qualities of their applications like extracurriculars and essays. The Empowerly Score takes a student’s academic performance, standardized tests, extracurriculars, and essays, so that students can receive a more holistic evaluation of their overall application strength.

When choosing which colleges to apply to, the Empowerly score coupled with college admission results of past students can really paint a clear picture of the best colleges out there for a student and help create a balanced college list. With these digital tools at hand, an admission database covering several years of past student admission results and wrap around services from a community of experts, it comes as no surprise that the Class of 2020 achieved such great heights of success.

If you haven’t already, schedule a free assessment to get started. Empowerly will see to it that you achieve success at every stage of your high school and college admission journey.

Questions? Let us know!