College Admission Trends for 2023

As high school juniors start to focus in earnest on applying to college, they should keep a few things in mind for the 2023-2024 application cycle.

Increased applications

Although the Common App has not yet released all of its application information for the 2022-2023 application cycle, through November 1, 2022, it reported an increase in the number of Common App accounts created, the number of discrete applicants, the overall number of applications submitted to colleges and the number of applications per applicant. States with the highest applicant growth include California, Texas, and New York.

Low admit rates

Given the overall increase in the number of applications and high yield rates at selective colleges, students can expect low admit rates in both the early and regular decision rounds to continue this year. CollegeVine anticipates admit rates of around 3% at the most selective colleges.

Given these anticipated low admit rates, students need to think strategically about where to apply early decision. Students must choose whether to use their early option at a college with a low probability of admission or at a college with a higher probability of admission where they will get a meaningful admissions boost. Notably, some of the colleges with higher probabilities of admission in an early decision round become a low probability of admission in the regular decision round.

International applications continue to rebound

The Insitute of International Education (IIE) reports that their member institutions showed a 65% increase in their international student applications for the 2022-2023 academic year across all institutional types, up from 43% one year ago. According to the IIE, international students enrolled for the first time at a U.S. college or university increased by 80% year-over-year, representing a return to pre-pandemic levels. Importantly, international students study in every U.S. state and territory, and nearly all U.S. states (44 out of 50) experienced an increase greater than 50% in new international student enrollments.

In addition, selective colleges like Bowdoin and Dartmouth announced in 2022 that they were expanding their need-blind admissions policies to international students, which will likely increase applications at those schools.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion matter

While bracing for a Supreme Court decision that changes how institutions may legally consider race or ethnicity in admissions, colleges’ and universities’ values and priorities will not change: diversity matters in higher education. Colleges and universities will look to states like California and Michigan, which have been barred under state law from considering race in admissions, to guide them in crafting admissions policies that will allow them to continue to admit a class of students that reflects the diversity of the country in which we live.

Test scores creep but still help

While most colleges and universities are likely to remain test optional for the 2023-2034 application cycle (notably, MIT and Purdue announced they will require tests), the middle 50% of test scores will likely continue to creep up since only students with high scores are submitting them. That said, high test scores are a plus in admissions. Although colleges and universities are not fully transparent about how many applicants they admit with and without test scores (and how that corresponds to the percentage of applicants who submitted scores), according to CollegeVine, two-thirds of successful college admits submitted test scores that were above the middle 50% at that college.

Unfortunately, there is no “one-size-fits-all” rule for deciding whether to submit test scores as part of the application. Students need to make a college-by-college determination based on their academic performance in school, their test scores, and the test score range at each college to which they apply.

The transcript remains king

Academic performance in school remains the most important part of the admissions process. This is not just a student’s GPA but the rigor of their courses in their school context. Colleges like to see students take increasingly rigorous courses and challenge themselves across all disciplines. Significantly, a student’s performance in class will get heightened scrutiny in the absence of test scores. I continue to recommend that students take all five core subjects—English, math, social studies, science, and foreign language—for all four years of high school.

Activities matter

At selective colleges and universities, how students spend their time outside of class matters! A dean at a highly selective college once famously said they get to choose the interesting from among the intelligent. Students need to be involved in extracurricular activities that matter to them and have deep engagement in them. It’s not about showing up at meetings—it’s about having an impact in their school or community. It’s also important to remember that jobs and meaningful family responsibilities “count” as activities in college admissions.

Strong applications stand out

The Common App personal essay and college-specific supplemental essays are important to college for several reasons. The essays allow the admissions committee to assess a student’s ability to write—whether a STEM or humanities student, writing is critical to college success, and admissions officers want to be confident that an applicant is up to the challenge. Above all, they are the student’s opportunity to share what matters to them in their own voice. Essays that weave together a student’s personality, values, and priorities make them three-dimensional. It’s much harder to deny a person than an application—so students want their application to “pop,” so the admissions officer wants that student on their campus.