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Admissions Insights: 2023-24

As we emerge from another application cycle, the competitive environment and shifting policies in university admissions continue to challenge students applying to university. Acceptance rates are still falling as applications—particularly to top-tier schools—continue to rise. Given the challenges, it’s imperative for students to distinguish themselves with stellar grades, extracurriculars, compelling essays, and high SAT/ACT scores for admissions success.

According to the Common Application (with over 1,000 member colleges), applications rose 6 percent for the 2023-24 cycle compared to last year’s total, which was already a high. This increase started in the fall of 2020 when most schools adopted a test-optional policy amidst the pandemic; many students seized the opportunity to apply to top universities that they might not have considered previously.

With record-breaking application numbers, acceptance rates at highly selective institutions continue to plunge to less than 10 percent. Public and mid-sized private universities have also become more selective. The Common App reports that the Class of 2024, on average, applied to 5.74 schools per student, up from 5.66 for the Class of 2023.

Despite the unsettled admissions landscape, Ivy Options’ students fared exceptionally well (all results here), gaining acceptances at elite private universities such as Stanford and Harvard, and top public institutions such as the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia, UC Berkeley and UCLA. Furthermore, possibly due to the FAFSA (financial aid) application debacle, fewer students confirmed their places by May 1st, leading to more waitlist acceptances than in previous years. So far, Ivy Options students have secured offers from waitlists at the University of Michigan, Boston College, Babson College, NYU, and Rice University.


Protecting Yields and Early Acceptances

The single-digit acceptance rates and policies of top-ranked universities impact less-selective schools, which, in turn, make changes to protect their yield rates. For example, these colleges are increasingly deferring applicants in early rounds to see if they’re serious about attending—or even denying them outright when the school thinks students are using them as a backup. The lesson for rising seniors: it’s critical to demonstrate your interest and become a known applicant. 

As a corollary, schools are increasingly using binding early decision (ED) plans to secure applicants. Students are responding to this. The Common App says that from the 2019-20 to 2023-24 admission cycles, early applications jumped 41%. The “early” strategy will continue to be used by students and colleges. For international students, ED is especially beneficial if they can commit to a first-choice university.

Testing Grows in Importance

Harvard and CalTech became the most recent colleges to reinstate standardized testing for applicants. They join Brown, Dartmouth, Georgetown, Georgia Tech, MIT, Purdue, Yale, and others. This trend is likely to continue. Institutions are pivoting away from test-optional policies due to concerns about the loss of valuable data. Educators argue that in an era of grade inflation, standardized test scores may serve as the most reliable predictor of future academic success, particularly for students lacking resources for extracurricular activities. The tests provide an objective benchmark irrespective of high school quality. MIT and Dartmouth state that considering test scores actually helps them identify and admit more well-prepared students from less-advantaged backgrounds.

For the moment, most colleges and universities remain test-optional; however, Ivy Options encourages students to maximize their college admissions potential with strong SAT or ACT scores through our private tutoring packages or by devising their own personalized study plan. Data suggests that including excellent SAT or ACT scores along with a strong high school GPA can offer an advantage over those who choose not to submit.

International Insights

United Kingdom: Grappling with lower international enrollments, a decade-long freeze in tuition, and rising costs, many of the country’s smaller and less established universities are expected to merge and consolidate to avoid bankruptcy. Given financial challenges, international students who pay higher fees remain attractive to universities. However, one positive recent development is the UK government’s decision not to change the visa entitlement, which allows international students who graduate from a British university to work in the UK for up to three years. Removal of this uncertainty will spark greater international student interest in attending UK universities.

Europe: The continent’s universities with English-language programs are attracting a growing number of international students who seek more affordable options than those in the US. Italy’s Bocconi and Spain’s IE are two of the most popular schools given their strong business courses and alumni network. As a result, the required academic qualifications for admission are becoming more competitive. Furthermore, Ivy Options had fewer students apply to universities in the Netherlands, a previously popular destination, amid fears of a student housing shortage.

Canada: Despite the country’s cut in education visa quotas for international students at the beginning of this year, Ivy Options students had high acceptance rates. The secret to their success: stellar essays and being well-prepared for interviews.

Advice to Students and Parents

For more than a decade, Ivy Options has helped students around the world apply and gain acceptances at their top-choice universities. Starting the process during Year 12/Grade 11 or sooner increases students’ opportunities to set themselves apart. Let us help you navigate the complex world of college admissions with individualized strategic counseling. Contact us at for more information or to book an initial consultation.


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