The 2020 pandemic continues to affect college applications in 2023, with an unprecedented increase in college applicants, a decrease in college acceptance rates, the rise of test-optional schools, and the elimination of SAT subject tests, among other factors. Public perception regarding higher education continues to evolve as well. The introduction of online and hybrid learning has prompted students and parents alike to consider the cost and value of a college application more critically.
Whether you are a student, parent, or educator, it’s important to stay current. In this article, we’ll discuss the latest college admissions trends for 2023, including the increased numbers of waitlisted students, Early Decision applicants, transfer students, and international student recruitments.
Are colleges looking at SAT scores in 2023? Many schools adopted test-optional policies during 2020 and 2021 college admissions. This continues to be the case in 2023. As of fall 2021, 65% of colleges in the U.S. are officially test-optional, with a recent survey citing that 68% of test-optional institutions plan to make this policy permanent moving forward.
That said, college admissions are becoming increasingly more competitive, especially since holistic college admissions standards are so subjective. That said, exceptional SAT and ACT scores can help distinguish your college application and set you apart from your peers. Overall, what colleges are looking for has largely remained the same, despite evolving test policies.
Complimentary Initial Consultation
Fill out this form to book your complimentary initial consultation.
Record-low acceptance rates
Why are college acceptance rates decreasing? During the last two years, there was an influx of college applicants, with Common App experiencing a 22% surge in total applications submitted. This can partially be accounted for by the rising trend in test-optional admissions policies. Students who did not test well and would otherwise limit their college applications to “fit” and “safety” schools are applying to more prestigious schools.
Let’s look at a few statistics to get a better idea of college admissions trends for 2023: Between the 2021 and 2022 admissions cycle, Amherst College’s college acceptance rate decreased from 12% to 7%; Boston College’s college acceptance rate decreased from 32% to 16%; Colgate College’s college acceptance rate decreased from 27% to 12%; Harvard University’s college acceptance rate decreased from 5% to 3%; and Dartmouth College’s college acceptance rate decreased from 10% to 6%.
So while what colleges are looking for in students largely remains the same, unfortunately, your odds of getting admitted to your dream school have become slimmer, simply due to competition.
More Early Decision applicants
As college admissions continue to become more competitive, Early Action and Early Decision applications have become increasingly popular. Schools are offering more early application options, including Early Decision II and Early Action II. While Regular Decision applications are still the norm, it is worth noting that for highly-selective schools, the number of accepted students who applied through Early Decision has increased dramatically.
Before the pandemic, colleges generally did not admit more than 20-30% of their incoming class through early admissions. This year, however, Barnard College admitted 62% of its incoming class through early admissions. Similarly, UPenn admitted 51% and Boston University admitted 50% of their incoming class through early admissions.
In short, Early Decision acceptance rates for 2023 are at a record high. Therefore, if you have your heart set on attending a certain school and have the financial resources to do so, you may want to consider applying through Early Decision.
Increased numbers of college deferrals
There has been an increasing number of college admissions deferrals since the beginning of the pandemic, with more and more students electing to take a gap year. Due to this, a record number of students have chosen to send notice of their deferral. In turn, this has affected college admissions officers’ decision-making process.
Longer college waitlists
Due to the increase in college deferrals, colleges no longer have stable admissions statistics to help them plan accordingly for their incoming classes. Because of this, there has been a significant increase in the number of waitlisted students to help account for this recent increase in college deferrals. This also means that demonstrated interest has become a more significant factor in what colleges want in an applicant.
Receiving a college waitlist letter can feel disappointing; thankfully, however, your odds of getting accepted are higher than they were pre-pandemic. As you figure out what to do if you’ve been waitlisted, remember, you still have a shot at being admitted to your dream school.
Increased number of transfer students
There is also an increased number of college transfer students in 2023 as well. This is partly because many first-year college students were unable to schedule in-person college tours due to COVID-19 restrictions. Choosing a college is a difficult decision so it makes sense that there are higher rates of transfer students in recent years. As campuses reopen and allow in-person college tours, transfer students are making more informed, mindful decisions about where they want to earn their undergraduate degrees.
If you are interested in transferring colleges, refer to our article, College Admissions 101: Transferring Colleges. You may also want to refer to our articles, Colleges Accepting Spring/Mid-Semester Transfers, and 10 Best Schools to Transfer To In 2022-23 & Transfer Acceptance Rates. Although transferring colleges can feel overwhelming, rest assured, lots of students successfully transfer colleges each year. Both transferring colleges and changing majors are common occurrences.
An increase in international student recruitment
As COVID-19 international travel restrictions are lifting, college admissions are increasing their efforts to recruit international students. In 2020 and 2021 international student populations took a significant hit. International students contribute significantly to colleges in the U.S., both culturally and financially. Because of this, colleges are eager to increase their international numbers and diversify their college campuses. If you are an international student, refer to our International Student College Checklist, as well as our article, Applying to a U.S. University as an International Student.
AP classes become more significant
The SAT subject tests have been eliminated. Effectively, this has placed an increased focus on AP classes and AP test scores. Elite institutions prioritize high academic achievement. In previous years this was gauged by SAT scores, ACT scores, SAT subject tests, AP test scores, and high school transcripts. With the rise of the test-optional admissions trend and the elimination of SAT subject tests, AP classes, and high school GPAs have become the main indicators of academic success. College admissions officers also look at your level of course rigor as an indicator of your academic capabilities, as well as your desire to challenge yourself.
If you want to know how many AP classes you should be taking, you should aim to take as many AP classes as you can reasonably manage in subjects that genuinely interest you. Talk to your teachers and high school guidance counselors about what they think is a manageable course load for you. You may also want to refer to a complete list of AP classes with their respective passing rates to help you decide on your class schedule. Remember, while it’s important to challenge yourself, it’s equally important to know your boundaries and limitations.
College essays become more significant
College essays are also becoming increasingly significant in the college application process. College essays, particularly supplemental college essays, help personalize the admissions process. Colleges want to admit diverse, vibrant student bodies. This is why holistic college admissions standards are so important. In some cases, colleges such as Brown, Bowdoin, and the University of Chicago are accepting video submissions in place of certain essays.
Stellar test scores and impressive GPAs are important, but with the rise of test-optional college admissions, it is important to take every opportunity to stand out. Review the components of a strong personal statement and focus on writing a sincere, unique college essay. Let your passion and personality shine through!
Use your college essays to give admissions officers a reason to want to admit you. You may also want to refer to our article on what college admissions officers look for in an applicant.
Legacy preferences are becoming outdated
As college is becoming more popular and accessible, admission standards are shifting. In the past, legacy students had a clear competitive edge when applying to schools, especially Ivy League institutions. In 2023, this is changing. Now cultural diversity is taking precedence over legacy status.
That said, it’s important to keep your eye on the news as the Supreme Court reviews the constitutionality of affirmative action programs. For the latest information, review our article, How Will the Supreme Court Cases Affect College Admissions?
Other factors and key takeaways
There have been countless cultural changes in light of the pandemic — for companies, workers, students, and families. College admissions are adjusting to the times as they navigate shifting COVID-19 protocols and anticipate the latest college admissions trends for 2023. From the rising popularity of test-optional admissions to lengthening waitlists to the waning importance of applicants’ legacy status to the upcoming Supreme Court cases, college admissions are in the process of undergoing major cultural shifts. This is why it’s important to stay up-to-date on trends in college admissions.
As you navigate college admissions season, continue to do your research and learn more about how to decide which colleges to apply to and how to write a successful college essay. Depending on your college goals, you may also want to consider hiring a college counselor. A college counselor can provide you with valuable insights into the college application process, help you design an application strategy, and polish your application materials. If you are interested in attending a highly-selective college, such as an Ivy League institution, reach out to learn more about our services.