9 Trends from the 2023-2024 Application Cycle

9 Trends from the 2023-2024 Application Cycle

As the landscape of college admissions continues to evolve, here are a few trends from the 2023-2024 application cycle that students applying to college this fall may want to consider.


Rising Application Volumes

The trend of increasing college applications shows no sign of slowing down. According to the Common App, applications to public universities grew by 12% and private universities by 7%. This increase reflects the growing interest in higher education and the competitive nature of college admissions. However, this growth also underscores the importance for students to stand out in their applications through unique experiences, personal essays, and extracurricular achievements.


The Shift in Early Decision

Early Decision (ED) has undergone a transformation in recent years, effectively becoming the new Regular Decision at many institutions. Schools that fill a substantial portion of their incoming class through the ED round are signaling a strategic shift in the admissions landscape. This move benefits colleges by locking in committed students early but also pressures applicants to make binding commitments without comparing financial aid offers. The trend towards ED highlights the competitive advantage for those prepared to commit early, underscoring the importance of strategic planning in the application process.


Diversity Remains a Priority

Despite the Supreme Court decision in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. that eliminated race-conscious admissions, colleges remain committed to enrolling diverse classes. Some colleges have introduced new essay prompts to understand applicants’ varied experiences and backgrounds in response to the SCOTUS ruling. These essays may undergo further adjustments in the 2024-2025 cycle, reflecting ongoing efforts to foster inclusivity and diversity without relying on race-conscious admissions policies.


Applicant Trends Show More Diversity

Data from the Common App indicates a significant increase in diversity among applicants. A November 2023 report highlights a rise in first-year domestic applicants who identify as underrepresented minorities and first-generation students since the 2019-20 admissions cycle:

  • American Indian or Alaska Native: +86%
  • Black or African American: +70%
  • Latinx: +65%
  • Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander: +53%
  • Two or more races: +50%
  • Asian: +43%
  • Unknown: +40%

These figures suggest that applications are becoming more diverse even without race-conscious admissions. This trend may be attributed to various factors, including college outreach efforts, changes in application questions to reflect diverse experiences better, and the societal push towards greater inclusivity.


Legacy Admissions Under Scrutiny

As part of the effort to recalibrate admissions after the Supreme Court decision in Students for Fair Admissions, some colleges, including New York University, Michigan State University, Bryn Mawr College, Carleton College, and Wesleyan University, are eliminating legacy admissions, which has been criticized for favoring applicants from privileged backgrounds. As colleges strive to level the playing field, the future of legacy admissions remains uncertain as institutions reevaluate their policies to ensure fairness and opportunity for all applicants.


Transition to Digital SAT

In a significant evolution of standardized testing, the SAT transitioned to a digital format in March. The digital SAT promises many benefits, including shorter test duration, faster results, and enhanced security measures to prevent cheating. The shift to digital is also expected to make the testing process more accessible and convenient, allowing for more flexible scheduling and administration. This move reflects the broader trend in education towards incorporating technology to improve efficiency and accessibility.


Standardized Testing Makes a Comeback

Interestingly, more colleges are reinstating standardized test requirements after a period of test-optional policies. This shift may paradoxically lead to lower middle 50% test score ranges at these institutions, potentially easing the competitive pressure of the “test scores arms race.” It’s an ironic twist that could benefit many students, making elite colleges slightly more accessible to a broader range of applicants.


Challenges with FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) encountered significant hurdles this year, complicating the financial aid process for countless students and families. Technical issues and system overhauls led to delays and confusion, impacting students’ ability to secure timely financial aid. As we look toward the next application cycle, the education community has a collective hope that these problems will be addressed and resolved. A smoother FAFSA process ensures that all students have equal financial aid opportunities, making higher education more accessible and less stressful for applicants and their families.


Generative AI’s Role in College Admissions

The advent of generative AI is poised to significantly influence the college admissions process, presenting a spectrum of ethical considerations and potential applications. On the one hand, students leverage AI to assist in college research, prepare for standardized tests, or brainstorm essay topics. Conversely, students could look to generative AI to write or enhance their application essays, raising questions about authenticity and fairness. The potential for unethical use, such as students submitting AI-generated work as their own, underscores the need for guidelines and integrity in the application process. Educators could also utilize AI to streamline the creation of personalized, impactful letters of recommendation, potentially improving the quality and depth of student endorsements.

Moreover, colleges might incorporate AI tools to analyze application materials more efficiently, enabling a more nuanced review of a candidate’s fit and potential. However, admissions offices must balance this integration with a commitment to fairness and the human element that is crucial in evaluating applicants’ diverse talents and experiences. As generative AI becomes more prevalent, its role in college admissions will likely evolve, necessitating ongoing dialogue and adaptation among students, educators, and institutions to harness its benefits while mitigating risks.



Significant disruptions, including FAFSA delays and generative AI, marked the 2023-2024 college application cycle. Admissions policies—from testing to early decision to legacy admissions—are inconsistent and in flux and likely to impact students’ strategies as they apply to college this fall. In this post-affirmative action era, however, one thing seems consistent at most colleges and universities: the emphasis on diversity remains strong, reflecting the desire for a more inclusive and accessible higher education system.