7 College Admissions Trends We're Watching

Apr 12, 2023 | Garden City NY

With the 2023 college admissions cycle wrapping up, we want to share some important observations with you. Several noticeable trends affecting college admissions are emerging, and we want you to be prepared. Understanding these trends can help you manage your expectations and make smart decisions as you and your child begin thinking about the college admissions process:

  1. APPLICATION VOLUMES AND COMPETITION REMAIN HIGH: Colleges have seen a significant increase in applications during the past two admission cycles. With the increase in applications, admission rates have been on the decline, most notably at highly selective schools. Given this competitive environment, we recommend that students should not assume that they will be accepted at any school. Every student, no matter how high their GPA or test scores, should have a range of colleges that are possible fits, including those with acceptance rates at and above 50 percent.

  2. EARLY DECISION IS BECOMING THE NEW REGULAR DECISION: More students are applying to college with early application plans, like Early Decision and Early Action. Elite colleges including Harvard, Yale, Penn, and the University of Virginia received record high numbers of early applications during the past two admission cycles, which resulted in record low early admission rates. Before the pandemic, colleges admitted no more than 20-30 percent of their freshman classes through early admission rounds, but this is changing. Some colleges are using Early Decision and Early Action as the preferred admission plan, with Regular Decision admission becoming a "space available" admission pathway. Waiting to apply in the Regular Decision round may reduce a student's chances of admission.

  3. ADDITIONAL EARLY DECISION ROUNDS: Second Early Decision rounds have also popped up at more colleges and universities. This gives students who are denied from their first choice Early Decision school an opportunity to commit early to a second choice, and another chance for colleges to snap up students who promise to enroll if accepted.

  4. TEST-OPTIONAL POLICIES: More than 80% of four-year colleges in the United States will not require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores for the 2023-2024 admission cycles. While some colleges have maintained or reinstated their testing requirements, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Florida, Auburn University, Georgetown University, and the University of Tennessee system, most colleges are extending their test-optional or test-blind policies through 2024-2025, with 90 colleges making their test-optional/test blind policies permanent. As a result, students worry that a SAT or ACT score that was "good" a few years ago may now be considered "below" average. However, college admission advisors are advising their students to submit test scores if they fall at or above the 50th percentile of the college's previous freshman class.

  5. VIDEO ESSAYS: Several colleges now offer students the opportunity to submit a video essay or introduction, with some even offering this option before applying. Some of the colleges that allow this option include Brown, Tufts, Washington University in St. Louis, Goucher, Bowdoin, George Mason University, and the University of Chicago. Admission experts suggest that students should be authentic and spontaneous while not worrying too much about production values.

  6. MAJOR-SPECIFIC ADMISSIONS: College admissions continues to be challenging for students applying to popular and competitive majors. Therefore, students should prepare for deeper scrutiny of their applications and their fit with the specific major program. For example, students should describe why a college has exactly the combination of programs in the specific subset of the field they are interested in, not just the major.

  7. FOCUS ON FIT: The most selective, popular, and prestigious schools have always been difficult to get into. However, there are many colleges that can provide you with outstanding educational opportunities and lead to success after graduation. Therefore, we advise students to focus on the factors that matter to them and choose a college because it fits them, not because it matches an idea of success that others are projecting.

We understand that navigating the college admissions process can be daunting for parents and students alike. That's why we recommend that students be strategic about where they apply early. It might make sense to apply Early Decision or Early Action to a slightly less “highly rejective” school. When students are strategic and apply early at target schools in addition to reach schools, they can often maximize their chances for sizable merit aid packages. We hope that these insights will help you make informed decisions about your child's college applications. Remember that every student is unique and will have different options and outcomes. Encourage your child to stay focused, stay positive, and work hard toward their goals.