It’s no secret that college admission has gotten more competitive. As summer approaches, rising seniors should use their free time wisely to start preparing their applications, including going on college visits, drafting admission essays, and continuing to build your résumé. Here are a few other things and interesting trends you should keep in mind about this past admission cycle as you begin the process.
1. Test-optional policy changes continue
In March 2023, Columbia University was the first Ivy League school to announce that they were going permanently test-optional. The University, along with 1,800 other schools across the nation, have made submitting SAT or ACT scores with an application the student’s choice. Schools like those in the University of California system, California Institute of Technology, and Reed College have gone to the extreme and are test-blind instead, meaning that even if students submit standardized test scores, they will not be considered or even viewed in the review process. Luckily, students who didn’t submit test scores don’t seem to be at a disadvantage. Colgate University reported that 56% of its admitted students to the Class of 2027 included test scores with their applications.
As you solidify your college list, be sure to look at test-optional policies and how long they’ve been extended. For instance, Johns Hopkins University will stay test-optional until the 2025–2026 application cycle, whereas the University of Michigan announced that its policies will only remain in place for the 2023–2024 admission cycle. On the other hand, Massachusetts Institute of Technology has already reinstated its SAT/ACT requirement for all applicants after suspending it during the COVID-19 pandemic.
2. Application volume increases
Application volume to colleges and universities continues to increase in general. According to the Common Application, total application volume increased by 30% from 2019–2020 to 2022–2023. More students are applying to college—and they’re applying to more schools on average. For example, New York University had nearly 120,000 applications this year for first-year admission, a 13% increase from the previous cycle; whereas, the University of Georgia had more than 43,700 applicants, a 10% increase from last cycle. As for who made it in: NYU admitted just 8% of those 120,000 applicants, while UGA admitted around 35%.
3. Early applications remain popular
Applying to college early through Restrictive Early Action, Early Decision, and Early Action programs remains a popular admission choice. These various early deadlines tend to give students a boost in acceptance rates, with Early Decision usually providing the biggest advantage. However, early applications skyrocketed in popularity this year. NYU received 22,000 Early Decision applicants, an increase of 14% from the previous cycle, while the University of North Carolina’s Early Action applications increased by 10% to nearly 38,650.
While students usually experience higher acceptance rates when applying early, the advantage starts to decrease with the increasing interest in these options. That’s why it’s important to have realistic expectations; just because the acceptance rates might be higher for Early Decision, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a better chance of being accepted. If a student isn’t a competitive applicant, they likely won’t see a significant bump in their odds.
4. Legacy preference is decreasing
In college admission, a “legacy” student is someone whose parents attended the same university. According to an article from The Guardian, these policies tend to favor White, affluent students, with many of the nation’s highly competitive colleges and universities still considering legacy in their admission process as recently as 2020. However, legacy policies have become less of a factor in admission decisions after the Varsity Blues Scandal of 2019 and litigation brought against top schools like Harvard University and UNC. Cornell University and Amherst College are examples of schools where legacy students won’t get a preference over non-legacy students when applying.
5. BS/MD programs are even more competitive
BS/MD programs, also known as direct medical programs, allow students interested in medicine to apply to undergraduate and medical school simultaneously. Once accepted to the program, they have a guaranteed spot at the partnered medical school. These programs have always been competitive but have gotten even more so in the last few years. Brown University's program in Liberal Medical Education had 4,192 applicants this admission cycle compared to 3,827 in 2021–2022; Drexel University’s Early Assurance program saw a similar increase, going from 2,298 applications in 2020–2021 to 2,705 for the next application cycle. If you’re interested in this type of program, take extra time to build your résumé to help you stand out among other BS/MD applicants.
College admission is more competitive than ever, and you should spend your summer wisely researching to ensure you find colleges that are a good fit—including policies and admission competitiveness that will benefit you. By looking at trends from previous cycles, you can arm yourself with information to enter the application cycle prepared.