7 Trends in College Admissions

The college admissions landscape changes every year. And with every change comes new plans, challenges, and opportunities to consider.
Here are seven trends the advisors at International College Counselors are helping families navigate in 2023.

1. Colleges are still experimenting with SAT/ ACT requirements.

SAT or ACT scores are no longer required by approximately 80% of four-year colleges in the U.S.
This trend will continue for students who apply for fall 2024 and fall 2025, with 2/3 of the colleges in the U.S. planning to extend their test-optional or test-blind policies. Many colleges have made their test-optional/test-blind policies permanent. However, this is not to say the SAT and ACT are going away for good. Some colleges, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgetown University, and all the public universities in Florida and Tennessee, are either maintaining or reinstating their testing requirements.

EFFECT: Since not all applicants submit their SAT/ACT test scores, the scores that have been submitted for the past two admission cycles reflect a higher average score.

RECOMMENDATION: Students may consider submitting test scores if they fall at or above the 50th percentile of the college’s previous freshman class. Those who choose not to submit their SAT or ACT scores must focus on earning their best grades in high school, writing strong essays, and engaging in meaningful extracurricular activities.

2. Popular and competitive majors are under scrutiny.
Many admission readers look closely at a student’s planned major when evaluating an application and consider the student’s activities and academics with that major in mind. Admission readers want to see that a student demonstrates interest, meaningful experience, and capability in the major they say they want to pursue. Given that many colleges ask for such an essay, students should be prepared to explain why they chose a particular major and why they want to pursue it at that particular college.
Students who are planning to apply to competitive majors might consider applying to a less competitive school within the same university, intending to transfer into the desired school once enrolled. Beware: this approach doesn’t always work.
Some majors, like computer science, engineering, or architecture, are difficult or super-competitive to transfer into, especially if these majors are in different colleges within the university. Further, if a student’s resume reflects a primary interest in business, and the student applies as a sociology major, for example, admissions officers will take note.

EFFECT: Students should apply to majors that align with their experiences.

RECOMMENDATION: Students need to choose their majors strategically; they may want to consider a less competitive major which is related to their experience and goals. For example, a student interested in computer science may want to consider listing mathematics as their intended major. But before taking this route, be sure to research thoroughly how difficult it might be to transfer to the intended department.

3. Legacy preferences are being curtailed.
Legacy admissions mean a college gives admission preference to children of its alumni. While legacy preference has long been a common practice for elite schools, many people have criticized this system, as it favors the wealthy and well-connected. Admission personnel also believe that ending legacy admissions may increase racial and socioeconomic diversity among a college’s student body. Some colleges have taken steps to end legacy preferences. [For instance] Colorado public colleges are barred from using legacy as a factor in admissions.

EFFECT: Students and parents need to recalibrate their expectations.

RECOMMENDATION: Ending legacy admissions doesn’t mean the children of alumni won’t get accepted at highly selective institutions; it just means that legacies need to qualify for admission on their own merits.

4. College administrators and admission readers value diversity.
College personnel believes that a diverse student body provides a variety of perspectives, enriches the educational experience, and allows students to expand their intellectual horizons and cultural understanding. As more colleges seek diversity, equity, and inclusion, they want their student body to reflect this commitment.

EFFECT: Colleges will offer admission to more students who represent diversity in terms of socioeconomic status, disability, ethnicity, and other factors, including first-generation students (those who are first in their family to attend college).

RECOMMENDATION: Students from all backgrounds should apply to colleges and universities. They should also make sure to highlight their experiences, beliefs, and perspectives in their essays and when choosing their extracurricular activities.

5. International enrollment is rebounding.
Because of travel restrictions due to COVID, colleges reported a huge hit in international student enrollment during the 2020-21 school academic year. The downward trend reversed for the 2021-22 academic year, with colleges reporting a 68% increase in new international students enrolled. The Fall 2022 International Student Enrollment Snapshot shows a continuing upward trajectory for international students who want to study in the U.S. Colleges emphasize enrolling international students because their perspectives, cultures, and backgrounds add to the learning experience.

EFFECT: An increase in competition for the limited seats available each year.

RECOMMENDATION: International and domestic students should not only apply to well-known colleges in the U.S., but rather they should expand their scope and create a balanced list. 

6. The number of students getting waitlisted appears to be growing.
Students are sending in more applications per capita, and their decisions about which college they will attend are becoming more unpredictable. For this reason, more students are being put on waitlists. The waitlist is a strategy used by colleges, even the most elite ones, in order to protect themselves from declining yield rates. (Yield is the percentage of admitted students who enroll.) To be considered a selective school, colleges need to have a high yield. Putting students on a waitlist lets a school lower its acceptance rate and raise its yield.

Students who get waitlisted end up in limbo because the college has not said yes or no, but “maybe.” According to a recent study, “The number of students [ultimately] admitted from [a] waitlist declined 46% [from one year to the next]: from 61,000 for the Class of 2024 to 33,000 for the Class of 2025.” If a student is waitlisted, there is still a possibility, while slim, that they will be offered admission. Typically, a student who has been “invited” to the waitlist must notify the college via their admission portal whether they would like to be considered for admission from the waitlist.

EFFECT: Students who get waitlisted may not have an offer from their first-choice college until after the May 1 decision deadline has passed.

RECOMMENDATION: Being on the waitlist is a chance to review one’s options. If a student is invited to the waitlist at a school they still may want to attend, they need to follow the college’s directions of continuing interest. This may include writing a letter of continued interest, sending in an additional recommendation letter, or simply checking a box. If a student decides to remain on the waitlist, they should still enroll and send a deposit to another college in case they are not admitted from the waitlist. And yes, a student can stay on more than one waitlist.

7. Higher ed is becoming more welcoming to trans and non-binary kids.
During the past two years, the Common App made changes to the application. Students are now given the option of sharing their preferred first names. The Common App also added a pronoun question, shifted the presentation of questions from “sex” to “legal sex” to reduce applicant confusion, and added “legal” to the first/given name question label.

Beginning with the 2023-24 application season, Common App will add “X” or “another legal sex” as an option in addition to “female” and “male.”
A number of college campuses are also becoming more trans-inclusive. Trans-supportive colleges may provide gender-inclusive restrooms in most campus buildings, enable trans students to be housed by their gender identity, allow students to change their name and/or gender marker on campus records (e.g., course rosters) without a legal name change, provide gender-inclusive housing and private changing facilities and single-person showers in athletic facilities, and more.

EFFECT: The Common Application, as well as many colleges themselves, are now more inclusive, affirming, and welcoming for trans and non-binary students. This type of college environment can help trans students on their path to personal, academic, and professional success.

RECOMMENDATION: Enjoy the good news if you have an LGBTQ+ student or are one.

A college advisor knows the trends and traditions and can help guide your student through the college admissions process.
If you need help: Contact BCES Free Comprehensive Preparation Assistance Program at 1-757-272-4472 or 908-370-9878.

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