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2019 College Admissions Trends: Insights from the Experts

What can college-bound families expect this admissions season? The college admissions landscape is constantly changing, and our team of expert counselors has some insight into what parents and students can expect in 2019.

Every year the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) releases its State of College Admissions report, with information on what admissions officers are looking for in applicants, what has changed from one year to the next, and more. This, coupled with our team’s over 150 years of experience in college admissions, allows us to examine the current admissions landscape and analyze trends that families can expect to see in the next admissions cycle. Here are the college admissions trends parents and students can anticipate for 2019.

Early Admissions Options Continue to Rise in Popularity
According to NACAC, the colleges say Early Decision applications increased by 4% on average, with Early Action applications increasing by 9%. And it’s not just the application numbers increasing. Colleges are reporting a 5% increase in ED admits and 10% increase in EA admits. Why the emphasis on early admission rounds? Well, the average yield rate, or the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll, for colleges continues to decline to 33.6% from 36.2% four years ago. As colleges find it harder to predict their yield, they rely more on early application rounds, especially early decision rounds where acceptance is binding. This is an effort to better predict their class size in order to plan for the next year. Students can expect to see more schools encouraging them to apply early, and more opportunities for rounds like ED II and even “ED III,” where students can change their regular decision app to an ED II app even after the ED II deadline has passed. Don’t be surprised to see more schools offer both EA and ED options, in an effort to sway students with more chances for an early admittance.

Deferrals and Waitlist Decisions Become More and More Prominent
Over the past year, colleges have utilized the waitlist more, with a 12% average increase in the number of students placed on the waitlist. Deferrals are also being utilized more, with Harvard deferring about 74% of early applicants last admissions season. This year, MIT deferred about 65% of the early applicant pool. Why? Again, colleges are trying to manage their yields, and they know that students who apply early are really keen to attend. Early rounds are filled with highly qualified applicants, but the colleges still might want to see a little more from them. The hope is that by the regular round, the students may have improved grades, test scores, or are read better in the regular applicant pool – giving them a better chance of admission. Should that deferred student be admitted, they might be more likely to attend. On the flip side, if not as many students enroll as they planned, they might pull students from the waitlist to fill those empty spots. Again, they assume the waitlist students are likely to enroll if admitted, so it’s a bit of a “backup” plan for them if they don’t quite meet their enrollment goals. These types of decisions can be frustrating to students, but are used strategically by colleges to ensure they have enough students each class year. If students are deferred or waitlisted, they need to know their options and how to improve their chance of admission.

Grades Continue to Be Most Important for US Applicants
According to NACAC, grades are once again the most important factor that colleges consider when evaluating applications. This isn’t anything new, but it is notable as it relates to college prep courses, like AP or IB classes, and strength of curriculum. Especially as more and more schools become test optional, the “hard factors” like grades and the types of classes students are taking are even more important in order to predict a student’s college readiness. Colleges don’t just want to see good grades, they want to see students taking advanced courses and doing well in them. According to the survey, 71% of colleges rated grades in college prep courses as “of considerable importance.” Students need to pay particular attention to their courses and evaluate whether their curriculum is challenging enough. They also need to know how to recognize grade problems and how to seek help to improve their academic performance.

But English Proficiency Exam Scores are Top for International Students
For many international applicants, performing well on the SAT or ACT is the most important part of the US admissions process. While those scores are important, colleges rated English proficiency exam scores as the most important factor they consider when evaluating international applicants. Grades and strength or curriculum are next, with SAT and ACT scores coming in fourth. In addition to performing well in class and preparing for the SAT or ACT, international applicants who speak English as a second language should also spend time preparing for the TOEFL or IELTS.

Essay Most Important “Soft Factor”
Whether you’re a US or international applicant, the college application essay is the most important “soft factor” that schools will evaluate, with over 75% of colleges assigning some level of importance to that application element. We can’t stress enough how important it is in the holistic admissions process to have strong hard and soft factors – with the essay being your opportunity to speak directly to the admissions officer. Students should write about something in their personal statement that can’t be found anywhere else in the application. In addition to the personal statement, students should also spend time crafting compelling supplements – including any quirky or unusual essay prompts or short answer questions.

Applying to college can be confusing, but by doing your research and staying up-to-date on the latest news and trends, families can be prepared and go into the college admissions process with confidence. At IvyWise, our team of expert college counselors is made up of former deans and directors of admission from some of the top schools in the country. They’ve been in the room where the decisions are made and know what it takes for students to stand out in the highly selective admissions process. Contact us today for more information on our college counseling services for high school students – from 8th grade all the way to senior year.

Want to learn more about the college admissions process? Download our free College Admissions Guide here!