First-Year Enrollment is Down – Is this Good News?

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

What Do Enrollment Declines Mean for the Class of 2025?

From canceled SAT exams to extended application deadlines, the Class of 2025 has faced plenty of changes throughout their admissions cycle. In the midst of this disruptive era, there’s also another factor that could impact admissions this cycle: first-year enrollment is down.

If you’re not quite sure about what this will mean for your admissions odds, you’re not alone. Enrollment numbers are critical to colleges, as they need tuition dollars and students on campus to continue operations. Colleges have lost millions this year due to COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions, and many families are wondering if cash-strapped schools will look to enroll more students in order to make up for 2020’s losses. Keep reading to learn more about the declines in college enrollment numbers and what this may mean for students who are hoping to secure a seat at their best-fit school

Crunching the Numbers

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center recently released some new findings that shows a 4% decrease in undergraduate enrollment from the prior year, with the largest decline coming from first-year students at 16%.

Different types of institutions are experiencing various levels of decline. Community colleges have experienced the most significant enrollment decline, with a decrease of 9.4%. In contrast, undergraduate enrollment is down just 1.4% at public four-year colleges and 2% at private nonprofits. 

What will these trends mean for the Class of 2025?

While the data captures mega-trends in the admissions sphere, what do these statistics actually mean for students who are preparing to apply to college this fall? There’s isn’t a universal answer, but there are some insights students may wish to keep in mind:

  • Put these numbers in perspective: While some seniors may rejoice at the decline in enrollment numbers, it’s important to contextualize these data points. Depending on the type of college you’re applying to, your prospective choices may not be experiencing rapid levels of change. Students who are planning to apply to four-year nonprofits, in particular, should note that enrollment declines are averaging 2% or less. Given this relatively small dip, the admissions odds at your best-fit college may not change radically.
  • Build confidence, not arrogance: There’s nothing wrong with gaining a slight confidence boost from these enrollment numbers. If looking at the statistics eases some of the admissions stress you’re experiencing, review them. However, students need to maintain a realistic outlook and continue to give the admissions process their all. Even if enrollment is down slightly, admissions officers are still going to be looking for stand-out applicants with demonstrated interests and passions. Focus on presenting your best self, don’t forget to double-check your work before submitting, and maintain the same standards you set earlier in your admissions journey.
  • Consider the schools on your list: Admissions statistics give an overview of enrollment trends, but they don’t necessarily tell the entire story. While decreases in enrollment may lead to higher acceptance rates at some colleges, it’s unlikely that students applying to Ivy League schools will receive a significant admissions boost. In the words of Angel Perez, the CEO of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, “At the very top tier, you are not going to see a lot of movement, but those institutions, as well, are very concerned about enrollment.” 
  • Look at last year’s data: If the colleges on your best-fit list are competitive universities with a high profile, there’s a chance that there won’t be much of an admissions bump at all. Take a look at some of the Ivy League acceptance rates for the Class of 2024 for reference: while 6 of the 8 colleges did experience a rise in admissions, all of the increases were relatively small. Dartmouth had the largest increase, with an acceptance rate that climbed to 8.8% from 7.9% the prior year. At Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and Brown, increases were all less than 0.7%.

Ultimately, it may be challenging for the Class of 2025 to predict their admissions odds during an application cycle that’s unlike any other. The best thing every student can do is focus on giving every application their all. If you’re preparing to apply to college and searching for personalized guidance, our team of admissions experts can help you feel confident. 

Also download our free 2020-21 College Prep and Admissions Guide for more expert insight into how to approach the admissions process this fall.

Related Topics

12th Grade, Admission Rates, College Admissions Trends

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