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Logically, all elite colleges that are having lower freshman matriculation rates are going to have trouble accepting the same number of students' next admissions cycle. If Harvard accepted 1980 for a class size of 1663 which is a yield of 84% and then 340 students roughly 20% have deferred for 1 year, this means that next cycle there will only be 1323 available spots at Harvard for incoming Freshman. If they hold the same 1663 spots for the class of 2025, then they will only admit 1584 students to get the same yield. 1584/40242 = 3.93% total acceptance rate for Class of 2025 versus 4.92% for Class of 2024, assuming yield stays constant and they have the same number of students applying.
Of course, they can always make an exception and admit 340 more students next cycle but if COVID-19 is still around and problematic, there will not be enough housing and safeguards in place to accommodate a larger incoming Freshman class of 2003 students. This possible lower acceptance rate scenario negatively impacts International students and other low-income students who rely more on financial aid than others. Although Harvard is need-blind, fewer students in all categories will be accepted. Near Ivy's and other Elites that are not need-blind will be accepting more students that can pay full tuition or those who require minimal financial aid packages. Although it doesn't sound fair, I hate to say it but if you come from a background of wealth you will have less inconvenience than other groups of applicants.
In conclusion, admission rates will be more competitive the Top schools in America like Princeton, Yale, Harvard and Columbia and not so much for the rest. I also feel that since it is an unknown as to whether all campuses will be open Fall of 2021, students may be applying to fewer schools because they don't want to apply to colleges that have botched up the on-campus experience like UNC-Chapel Hill, Syracuse, Purdue, UConn, Notre Dame, UAlabama.
The deferrals WILL be taking spots away from the next year’s pool of applicants, so I’m not sure if the admissions rate will be significantly affected but yes there will be more selective admissions and fewer spots for applicants the following year. I’ve confirmed this with the chief AO of a prestigious college and although she said their institution in particular had far less deferrals than expected their college is undergoing the same process.
For domestic students I think colleges are going to lean more towards students who can pat in full and be more picky with whom they give financial aid to; many colleges are in desperate need of funding and need that financial boost. Just a speculation, however.
As for intl students I don’t know really how COVID is impacting everything. At one point I thought that admissions will be a lot more difficult since colleges will be admitting fewer into students due to the risk of COVID transmissions but also due to the travel/student visa ban that the US imposed on some intl students. I know a lot of top level colleges are working to circumvent that. I would honestly ask around and do some research cause my experience has only been w domestic students.
Generally I think the bar of admission is going to be lower due to test-optional and COVID-sensitive policies, but they will also be more selective. So if you were negatively affected by the pandemic don’t worry too much, and if you were fortunate enough not to and had the opportunity to boost test scores/ECs then you will get an edge in the application process.