It’s important for college-bound students to stay up to date on the latest college admissions trends. The start of the 2023-24 admissions cycle is an excellent opportunity to reflect on recent updates and keep an eye towards the future.
2023 continued the trend of tremendous change that affected almost every aspect of college-bound students’ lives — including the college admissions process. Rising application numbers, lower admissions rates, and test-optional policy updates have had a profound impact on college admissions.
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 2023 and beyond.
Application Numbers Continue to Climb
Many schools reported a record number of early applications for the 2022-23 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 30% since 2019-20. Similarly, the number of college applicants has climbed by 21% over the same time frame.
Several factors 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, 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 Persists for Now
After a slow but steady climb for several years, the number of schools shifting to test-optional admissions policies has skyrocketed since 2020. As colleges navigate this new test-optional landscape and build their first-year classes, we expect many to adopt this policy permanently moving forward. In fact, many schools that went test-optional because of the pandemic have adopted these changes permanently, including some bigger name schools like Columbia. However, other bigger name schools, like MIT, have gone back to requiring test scores.
While the dramatic shift to test-optional is certainly noteworthy, students should keep a few things in mind for 2023. 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 are updating their test-optional 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.
No More Affirmative Action
In June 2023, the Supreme Court gutted affirmative action, removing race and ethnicity as factors in college admissions. Many campuses will most likely become less racially and ethnically diverse as a result. Numerous colleges responded by revising their supplemental essay prompts to address race, identity, and/or ethnicity.
It is important for applicants to highlight their diversity of identity, experience, and perspective they will bring to their college campus through their personal statement and by encouraging teachers and counselors to share this information in their recommendation letters. We anticipate that colleges will find new and innovative ways to cultivate diverse campus communities, but those innovations will take time to develop, test, and implement.
Legacy Admissions Will Be Reviewed
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the use of affirmative action in college admissions, many schools are examining their policies regarding legacy admissions. More than 700 schools currently give admissions preference to prospective students with ties to alumni and donors. Several prestigious schools have already done away with legacy admissions, including Amherst College, Pomona College, Wesleyan University, and MIT.
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 have continued to follow that trend. Colleges have been utilizing waitlists more frequently 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.
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.
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%. According to data by Open Doors, the number of newly enrolled international students at U.S. schools rebounded by 80% during the 2021-22 academic year — a return of international student enrollment to pre-pandemic levels.
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 U.S. continues to shrink, international students are an essential part of continuing to grow enrollment at U.S. universities. Expect that colleges across the board will ramp up their international recruitment efforts to keep these numbers on an upward trajectory.
This includes U.S. universities recruiting more students from a broader pool of countries rather than just a handful of countries that send large numbers of students to U.S. 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 U.S.
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. 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.