A couple of weeks ago, I released my latest article for Forbes, which touches on the current trends in college admissions. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact how we live, work, and learn, and I’ve witnessed dramatic changes in the admissions process, both politically and logistically. If you’re a parent of a teenager, this piece is a must-read, but I think there are important lessons to be learned for all of us. For me, these new trends reflect what I’ve always found to be true about admissions (and about life in general): unlocking and embracing your true, wholly authentic self is the first step in getting where you want to be.

Traditional ways of standing out are changing

When I was growing up, if you wanted to go to college, it felt like taking the SAT or the ACT was required. Today, a whopping 96% of colleges do not require test scores, compared to 55% in 2019. While I do counsel most of the students I work with to take the tests just in case, ending the requirement can be a relief for some young people going through the admissions process.

Supporters say that the removal of the testing requirement expands educational access and equity for underrepresented students, but that may not be the case. A recent Fordham Institute report claims that the test-optional and test-free trend is not effectively addressing equity issues. A Hechinger Report article agrees and also claims that removing testing makes the admissions process more subjective, meaning it’s actually less fair.

It remains to be seen which ideology will last the test of time, but for students applying to schools now, it’s even more important for them to find what lights them up. Not only for the sake of standing out, but for their health and well-being.

Showing your authentic self as as student

So how does a student stand out? For one thing, they prioritize high impact activities in and outside of the classroom, and minimize distraction. They dive deeply into one activity or interest versus trying to join all the same clubs as their friends. They go beyond a practice of “checklisting” to get in, e.g. counting volunteer hours and APs to see if they are “enough.”

That’s why at my company, Ivy Insight, we promote the ideal that every student should be aiming to discover and leverage their College Admissions X-Factor™. A student’s “X-Factor” is their unique differentiator at the intersection of their expertise and exponential impact.

A student’s unique differentiator is not just about rising above the competition of admissions, but about having a solid foundation of experience that guides their path forward – so that when students are choosing their major and colleges, they know not just the what but the why. Naturally, a student’s best-fit college will offer admission when the priorities of the student match. As I wrote in my book, Get Real and Get In (St. Martin’s Press), your admission to college is NOT about you, it’s about how you help the college to meet their priorities.

An open mind leads to opportunity

Many aspects of college admissions became more challenging during the pandemic, but new opportunities are also emerging. New programs by Niche and Concourse Global are now offering a direct admission program, which allows colleges to approach students based on their profiles instead of a traditional application. Colleges offer acceptance and even scholarships up front. While students do not know which colleges will reach out, having a profile on one or both of these platforms could present unexpected and interesting opportunities.

To unlock your authentic self is to have an open mind, and be ready to walk through new doors. This applies to all areas of your personal and professional life. The people who respond positively to your true self are often the right people to connect and collaborate with. Those who only accept you when you’re inauthentic won’t lead to strong and meaningful relationships. It may be disappointing, especially when we really want someone or something to be the right fit, but if you open your mind to other opportunities, you may find something even better.

Finding creative ways to be your authentic self is increasingly important

ChatGPT, the AI chat bot launched in November, has disrupted a number of industries, and that includes college admissions. The Common App delayed its announcement of the 2023-2024 essay prompts by several weeks, possibly due to concerns about ChatGPT. Some colleges had already expanded beyond the traditional college essay before ChatCPT, but it’s likely that some colleges will drop the essay requirement or provide other ways for students to express themselves, such as portfolio materials, research supplements, and video (think Elle Woods in Legally Blonde). These options won’t be available at every school, but this change presents students with new opportunities to stand out and highlight their skills in a unique way.

AI is only going to get better, and it’s likely that colleges and other organizations will continue to adjust their requirements to adapt to the technology. Like the change in testing requirements, this change could be a great equalizer when it comes to education equity for both underrepresented students and neurodivergent students. These kinds of precautions against AI dependence will surely expand to include the professional world as well, meaning that all of us need to stretch our creativity muscles going forward. Creative thinking comes more naturally for some than it does for others, but these new challenges are an opportunity to dig deep and discover new things about ourselves. It isn’t easy to do that kind of work, but it is an important step to living with authenticity.

To me, these trends indicate a chance to be inspired in how we view ourselves and how we set our goals for the future. Let’s embrace this new freedom together!

Let’s talk!

I’m here for you, so if you have questions or ideas for things you’d like me to cover in Unlocking Your Authentic Self, I want to hear from you! Connect with me here on LinkedIn and send me a message or contact me at info@ivyinsight.com.