8 Additional Trends in College Admissions

The college admissions landscape is changing so much that we needed to divide our blog on trends in college admissions. Here are eight more college admissions trends we are helping families navigate this year.

As you help your high school student through the college admissions process, keep these trends in college admissions in mind. When you understand the current college admissions climate, you can optimize your student’s college admissions strategies. 

1. Northern students are increasingly heading south for college.

As colleges in the Northeast, especially the “Ivy types,” grow increasingly selective and competitive, more families are considering schools in the South. Many Southern schools give merit aid, and money can usually go further at a Southern school because the cost of living is typically not as high. Plus, for students who hate the cold, being in the South can be a big plus.

EFFECT: More students are applying to schools in the South, including SMU in Dallas, Emory in Atlanta, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Miami. From 2016-2022, FSU saw an astounding 157% increase in first-year applications.

RECOMMENDATION: Strongly consider adding colleges and universities in the South to your college list.

2. College application numbers remain high.

Without the hurdle of standardized testing requirements, students are applying to many more selective schools than in the years before test-optional policies were adopted.  According to the Common App’s January 2023 update, total application volume rose 24% from 2019-20 to 2022-23. Colleges that saw an increase in applications ranged from the nation’s most selective schools to less competitive public colleges.

EFFECT: When more students submit applications to colleges, fewer students get admitted. This trend is most visible at highly selective schools, but it is happening at colleges of every level of selectivity. That said, when college acceptance rates drop, even top students need to reconsider the colleges they may think of as “safeties.” Even the most qualified candidates are never guaranteed an offer of admission.

RECOMMENDATION: Every student, even those who are valedictorians, should apply to colleges with a range of selectivity.

3. Applying Early Decision may increase a student’s chance of acceptance at some colleges. 

Students who apply Early Decision or Early Action submit their applications much earlier than Regular Decision applicants and receive their decisions earlier. Early Decision (binding) and Early Action (non-binding) plans are advantageous for the colleges. For one, students who apply early are more likely to enroll (Early Decision is binding; Early Action is not). A college’s yield is improved when accepted students enroll, which, in turn, means that a college can keep its admission rates low. Given this, colleges favor students who apply early, and thus applying early is more popular than ever. Numerous colleges, including Harvard, Penn, Yale, and the University of Virginia reported high application numbers in the early round over the past two years.

More specifically, before the pandemic, colleges typically admitted roughly 20 to 30% of their freshman classes through early admission rounds. This year, the numbers have gone up; colleges have admitted a record-high number of students who applied Early Decision or Early Action. For its fall 2023 freshman class, Barnard College admitted 62% through early admission, while Boston University admitted 50%, and Penn 51%. Tulane, Emory, Swarthmore, and Middlebury admitted up to 50 or 60% of the fall 2023 freshman class early. 

EFFECT: Waiting to submit an application in the Regular Decision round may reduce a student’s chances of admission.

RECOMMENDATION: Your college admissions strategy should include applying Early Action wherever possible (and Early Decision, but only if you have a clear first-choice college and you don’t need to compare or consider financial aid packages or scholarships). 

IMPORTANT TO KNOW: Students who apply to binding Early Decision plans must commit to attending the college if admitted; students applying Early Action don’t need to commit; they just get their decision sooner.

4. Colleges are offering an additional Early Decision round.

Another one of the trends in college admissions: Early Decision 2 is increasing in popularity. While traditional Early Decision 1 (ED1) programs have deadlines in October or November, Early Decision 2 (ED2) allows students to wait until later in the admissions cycle–often in January—to choose an Early Decision school.  Not all schools offer a second Early Decision plan, but the number that do is growing. For students who are not accepted outright at their ED1 college, ED2 offers them a chance to commit early to a second choice. For colleges, ED2 is a welcome opportunity to admit students who have committed to enroll if accepted.

EFFECT: Waiting to submit an application in the Regular Decision round may reduce a student’s chances of admission.

RECOMMENDATION: Your college admissions strategy should include applying early. 

5. Students who engage in research may increase their chances of admission.

While there is not enough data to clearly assess whether this is a trend, we saw that nearly one-third of the students admitted to the University of Pennsylvania engaged in academic research while in high school. 

EFFECT: Interest in research is surging among top high school students. Research such as capstone projects, senior theses, and International Baccalaureate assessments can be conducted with academic mentors who teach or research at the college level. Research opportunities are offered through summer programs and companies like Polygence and Horizon. A number of high schools are even offering research opportunities themselves. 

RECOMMENDATION: Students who are considering Ivy League or other highly competitive colleges should consider engaging in research. 

6. Artificial intelligence (AI), like ChatGPT, has colleges reconsidering the role of the college essay.

AI writing tools such as ChatGPT have the potential to assist students in writing their college essays. 

EFFECT: Colleges are closely monitoring the advancement of technologically driven writing tools. Currently, the feeling is that AI-produced essays are cliché, flat, and unconvincing. Experts are working on developing tools that can detect if writing is bot originated.

RECOMMENDATION: Write the essays yourself until colleges decide to drop them. Currently, AI cannot substitute for a student’s creativity, writing, and thinking skills. While AI can generate ideas and write grammatically correct sentences, it cannot adequately convey a student’s experiences with authenticity; only the student can provide the personal details, insight, and sincerity needed to bring their experiences to life. However, colleges may one day drop the admission essay or change the format. Perhaps they’ll bring back the essay portion of the SAT/ACT.

7. More colleges accepting video submissions.

Colleges want to get to know their applicants, but interviews aren’t always available. Some colleges, including Brown, Washington University in St. Louis, Bowdoin, and the University of Chicago have decided in recent years to offer the opportunity to submit a video. Babson College invites applicants to respond to their supplemental essay prompt with either a traditional essay or a one-minute video.

EFFECT: Students are submitting videos to colleges to help the college get to know more about them in a different and less formal way.

RECOMMENDATION: Students should take advantage of the video introductions and share their personality and a story or two that’s not found elsewhere in the application. Note that colleges are more interested in the student than in the production value of the video.

8. Some colleges have begun to question whether to continue submitting data to U.S. News & World Report for the college rankings.

On February 27, 2023, Colorado College, a prestigious, private liberal arts college, announced that they will no longer be participating in the “deeply flawed” and “antiquated” U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges” rankings. Prior to this announcement, only a few universities at the graduate level, including Harvard Medical School and Harvard Law School, chose to no longer submit data for the magazine’s annual rankings. Dr. George Daley, dean of the faculty of medicine at Harvard, said, “…Rankings cannot meaningfully reflect the high aspirations for educational excellence, graduate preparedness, and compassionate and equitable patient care that we strive to foster in our medical education programs.”

EFFECT: With Colorado College’s bold move and powerful statement by its President, L. Song Richardson, we anticipate a few more colleges to take this step to support their school’s vision and mission. 

RECOMMENDATION: Rather than choosing a school based on rankings (which are generated through questionable methods), students should work to find the best fit schools—the ones that match what they are looking for in their college experience.  

Work with a seasoned college advisor who knows the trends in college admissions and latest developments and can help guide your student successfully through the college admissions process. Contact International College Counselors at 1-954-414-9986 or www.internationalcollegecounselors.com