Here are our quick takes on the trends that have impacted the past admissions cycle. Read on to learn how falling acceptance rates, high application volumes, and Early Decision plans have impacted this year’s students.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)remain a priority while high application volumes persist
According to a November article in Forbes.com, the Common App reported an increase in total applications to nearly 750,000, a 26% rise from 2019-20. A large part of this growth came from under represented minority and first-generation applicants; they increased by 32% and 43% respectively, while those from less economically privileged backgrounds who claimed a Common App fee waiver rose by 54%. The admissions landscape is not only becoming more diverse, but also more competitive for overseas students, with the number of international applicants rising by 63% compared to 20% domestically. The rise in applications to popular universities has been especially striking; for example, applications to NYU rose from 100,000 for the Class of 2025 to 120,000 for the Class of 2027. In the UK, the UCAS university admissions service reported that applications fell slightly, but
those from international students rose by 3% to 114,910. The UK remains a popular destination; applications from the UAE were up 21%. Ghana,Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Turkey also posted significant increases while EU and Chinese numbers were slightly down. In terms of DEI, The Times recently reported a significant shift in Oxbridge admissions, stating, “In 2002, 54.3% of Oxford offers were to state school applicants, rising to 68.2% in 2021. At Cambridge, it has risen from 55.5% to 69.8% over the same period.” As a result, Oxbridge acceptances have become more elusive, and the number of British privately educated students applying to highly selective US universities continues to rise.
High-volume applicants are increasing
According to a December 2022 report from the Common App, the number of students applying to 10+ universities has more than doubled over the past seven years. Although more than half of all applicants still apply to less than five colleges, international students and those aiming for the most competitive universities send more applications to increase their chances in the competitive admissions landscape.
Acceptance rates are stabilizing at the most selective universities, but falling elsewhere
To put the ongoing competitiveness in perspective, Boston University’s Class of 2027 acceptance rate of 10.7% nearly matchesIvy League Cornell’s 10.8% just four years ago for the Class of 2023. At highly selective universities including Brown, Yale, MIT, Columbia, and Stanford, the single-digit acceptance rates have stabilized at around 3.5 to 5% over the past three years. However, at universities that were previously seen as‘ more accessible,’ falling rates mean that even top students are being turned away or waitlisted. The table below shows the declining acceptance rates for a selection of popular universities(source: Common Data Set and university press releases).
Going back a few more years reveals even more dramatic changes. For example, the acceptance rate for NYU’s Class of 2024 was 21%,while ten years ago, it was 35%.
Rankings are becoming more controversial and falling out of favor
After Reed College cited flawed methodology and stopped supplying rankings data to USNews in 1995, few followed – until this year. Since the beginning of 2023, The Rhode Island School of Design, Bard College, and Colorado College have withdrawn as well. While other undergraduate institutions have yet to join them, it is a different story for graduate programs. Yale Law School exited in November 2022, stating that it would not complete future surveys. Yale criticized the emphasis on the LSAT admissions test and called the USNews’ metrics“damaging to the profession.” Forty law schools joined the exodus, and US medical schools followed suit, arguing that grades, test scores, and the student:faculty ratios that contribute significantly to the rankings algorithm cannot tell the full story about their programs’ opportunities. To date, although most undergraduate programs are still taking part, rankings remain under scrutiny. Expect further calls for transparency and the possibility that more undergraduate institutions will shun rankings in the future.
Early Decision (ED) remains popular, but some colleges are pulling back to promote equity
Binding early decision plans continue to attract a rising number of applicants given their higher acceptance rates. They also enable students to exchange months of stressful waiting for certainty about their college future. A family must be fully committed to an ED institution to select this option, making it inappropriate for those who need to compare financial aid offers. Marking a new trend, some universities have begun to accept a smaller proportion of their classes through ED in order to offer more places to those from lower-income backgrounds or those who are less supported or organized in the application process. As a striking example, Tulane admitted two-thirds of the Class of 2026 through Early Decision; however, they have reduced this proportion to just over 30% this year in order to focus on equity and inclusion. Given the rising importance of DEI on college campuses, we expect more universities to cap or reduce the proportion of their classes filled through ED.
Nonetheless, Early Decision applications remain valuable and on the rise
During the past cycle, binding ED1 and ED2 applications as well as non-binding EA (early action) applications rose as students showed their devotion to favorite universities. Many popular colleges including Brown, Duke, Dartmouth, Penn, Yale, Notre Dame, Santa Clara, and Emory saw more early applications. With acceptance rates remaining two or three times higher than in the regular decision round, it pays to apply ED or Restrictive Early Action if a student has a true first choice.
Strong SAT/ACT scores improve chances at competitive universities
As in past years, students who applied with a strong test score – that is, at the university’s 50th percentile or higher – generally had better admissions outcomes than those who applied without testing. While Columbia University recently became the first Ivy to go permanently test-optional, other institutions such as IE, Bocconi, MIT, Georgetown, and Georgia Tech continue to require testing. Given that the digital SAT is designed to be a more accessible and comfortable exam, we strongly encourage all students to at least take a diagnostic test to assess whether this component of the application can help them to stand out. For ambitious international students, it is especially important to prioritize testing.
More than ever, it pays to show demonstrated interest or become a ‘known applicant’
This application season, we saw better results for students who engaged with their universities in meaningful ways. Many universities track students’ efforts to connect with the campus community. Demonstrated interest can take many forms, including adding a university to the Common App, signing up for mailing lists, attending webinars or student forums, writing to admissions officers, and visiting campus. The Common Data Set report for each university states whether the university takes demonstrated interest into account and if it is“considered” or“important.” For a handful like American University and Syracuse University, the level of an applicant’s interest is actually “very important.” We have seen that even when a university doesn’t officially track interest, students who have become known by their admissions officers through campus visits, interviews, conversations at school, emails, or other types of personal engagement typically have better results.
Acceptances are becoming more elusive for computer science and engineering applicants
Engineering and computer science are perennially popular majors, with strong career prospects and the highest median salaries according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As a result, an increasing number of prospective applicants are chasing these coveted places at universities. Even students with a strong resume and high grades will likely achieve fewer acceptances than they might have hoped. For potential applicants, it is critically important to develop a balanced list and consider a wide array of names that go beyond famous institutions like MIT, UC Berkeley, and Georgia Tech. A high test score, an impressive transcript, glowing recommendations, and a unique story that captures admissions officers’ attention are more valuable than ever. In the coming weeks, there will be even more data to review and conclusions to draw. The admissions arena is becoming increasingly competitive each year; however, with careful planning and hard work, students can still achieve their dreams. Please speak to your Ivy Options counselor if you have any questions.