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2022 College Admissions Trends and Insights from the Experts

It’s important for college-bound students to stay up-to-date on the latest college admissions trends, and the spring semester is an excellent opportunity to reflect on recent updates and keep an eye towards the future.

2021 was a year of tremendous change that affected almost every aspect of college-bound students’ lives – including the college admissions process. From fluctuating between in-person, online, and hybrid learning models, to test-optional policy updates, the COVID-19 pandemic continued to have a profound impact on the college admissions process.

While many schools are no longer relying solely on virtual classes, and standardized testing has resumed, there’s no doubt that the pandemic will leave a lasting impact on higher education. Many institutions have extended their test-optional admissions policies, with some considering making these changes permanent.

Throughout the college admissions process, doing your due diligence is essential. The more students know about the process, the better prepared they will be to make decisions that align with their needs and goals. The IvyWise team of expert counselors has compiled a list of the top admissions trends that students should have on their radars throughout 2022 and beyond.

Application Numbers Continue to Climb

Many schools reported a record number of early applications for the 2020-21 application cycle. Rather than taking a nosedive the following year, application numbers have continued to trend upwards. According to data from the Common App, the number of total applications submitted increased by 22% over the previous year. Similarly, the number of college applicants has climbed by 13% over the same time frame. There are a number of factors that are likely behind this upswing in applications, including the schools’ new test-optional admissions policies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students who might have once felt discouraged from submitting their applications due to sub-par test scores now have the opportunity to apply without reporting how they did on the SAT or ACT. It’s likely that this trend will continue for applicants in the Regular Decision round, which is why it’s so important for students to ensure that their balanced lists of best-fit colleges include a good number of ‘target’ schools.

Test-Optional Goes Mainstream

After a slow but steady climb for several years, the number of schools shifting to test-optional admissions policies has skyrocketed since 2020. As a result of numerous SAT and ACT cancellations, many colleges have placed a hold on requiring students to submit exam scores, at least temporarily. The 2021-2022 application cycle marks the second year that every Ivy League institution is test-optional.

As colleges navigate this new test-optional landscape and build their first-year classes, we can expect many to adopt this policy more permanently moving forward. In fact, a recent survey of colleges found that 68% of schools that went test-optional because of the pandemic plan to adopt these changes permanently.

While the dramatic shift to test-optional is certainly noteworthy, there are a few things students should keep in mind for 2022. First, ‘test-optional’ doesn’t mean ‘test-blind’. Just because a school doesn’t require you to submit SAT or ACT scores doesn’t mean that a strong testing performance won’t work in your favor. We recommend that students who have the opportunity to sit for the exam take full advantage of this chance to add to their applications.

Secondly, many colleges are adopting test-optional policies for only a specific period of time. Some schools have noted that they will continue being test-optional for three years, while others are updating their policies on a year-by-year basis. Consequently, it’s important to stay up to date on the requirements for every school on your best-fit list.

Waitlists Will Get Longer

Due to rising application numbers at some of the country’s top schools and concerns over enrollment numbers, college waitlists lengthened in 2020, and they’re likely to follow a similar trend in 2021. We saw this in the early round with record deferral numbers and expect this to carry over into waitlists in the Regular Decision round. Colleges have been utilizing waitlists more and more over the past few years as more students apply to a higher number of colleges, and now with increased pressure to hit enrollment targets, it’s likely that admissions officers will increasingly opt to waitlist applicants this spring.

While being placed on a waitlist can be confusing and disappointing, it is also an opportunity for students to assess their options. If you’re confident that the school that you’re waitlisted at is truly your top choice, here are some tips from our admissions counselors for maximizing your admissions outcomes. From discussing your strategy with your college counselor to reiterating your desire to attend, it’s important for waitlisted students to be proactive.

Expect More Gap Years and Transfers

The 2019-20 admissions cycle saw record numbers of accepted applicants opting to take a year off rather than going to college online in the fall. Although the COVID-19 vaccine is now widely available, you can expect that many students will still opt to take a gap year. While it likely won’t be the same onslaught the Class of 2024 saw in the spring, it will probably still be higher than normal. With interrupted extracurricular activities, the flip-flop from in-person to virtual learning, and the absence of regular college admissions activities like in-person campus visits and colleges fairs, we predict that many students will want to take some time off to be 100% sure that they have found their best-fit options to get the full college experience they want.

We also expect that, for similar reasons, a higher number of students will want to transfer colleges this spring. Many students who are now first-year students didn’t have a chance to tour their colleges before enrolling, meaning a greater proportion might be interested in transferring to schools that better meet their needs and goals. The overall first-year transfer rate is around 33%, but we expect it to be much higher this year – especially when considering students who went to a community college or a less-expensive school to save some money while learning was entirely remote and now want to transfer somewhere else.

Colleges Will Go All-In Wooing International Applicants

Colleges across the country took huge hits in international student enrollment during the 2020-21 school year due to travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic. During the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, international enrollment fell by as much as 43%. After this dramatic downfall, international enrollment has already more than rebounded during the 2021-2022 admissions cycle, with a reported 63% increase from the year prior.

This uptick is good news for the college admissions landscape, especially since declines in international student enrollment cause a huge financial hit to schools and surrounding communities, as international students often pay full price and contribute significantly to local economies. International students are also an essential part of the college experience, contributing to the diversity of cultures and experiences on campuses. As the population of graduating high school students in the US continues to shrink, international students are an essential part of continuing to grow enrollment at US universities. Expect that colleges across the board will ramp up their international recruitment efforts to keep these numbers on an upward trajectory.

This includes US universities recruiting more students from a broader pool of countries rather than just a handful of countries that send large numbers of students to US institutions already. This expansion of recruitment will increase the geographic diversity on college campuses. Given the importance of students with varying perspectives and backgrounds, this influx of diversity could add tremendous value to college campuses across the US.

Value Is the Name of the Game

ROI is still a very important guiding metric when it comes to choosing where to apply to college. That became even more of a consideration during the past two admissions cycles, with families wondering if the cost was worth it to just be going to school online. As a result of this increased emphasis on value, increasing numbers of applicants will be drawn to institutions with sizable financial aid offerings, developed work-study programs, and opportunities to graduate in three years as opposed to four. Other applicants may focus on state schools, which are generally the more affordable option for students who live in the region.

It’s important to understand the college admissions landscape when you prepare for your admissions journey. Information is key, and when students are aware of the current college admissions climate, they are in turn more knowledgeable about their application options and best-fit strategies.

At IvyWise, our team of admissions counselors, tutors, and specialists always has its finger on the pulse of college admissions and knows what it takes to gain admission to students’ top-choice schools. With the emergence of test-optional policies, consideration of gap years and transfers, and questions about ROI, the college application process can seem even more opaque now than ever before. IvyWise is here to help you navigate this process with insight gleaned from experience inside admissions offices. For more information on our college counseling programs and how our team can help you gain admission to your top-choice colleges, contact us today.

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