As the world continues to change and evolve, so does the college admissions process. Whether you're a student or a parent, staying up-to-date on the latest trends can be essential for navigating this competitive landscape. In this blog, we'll explore five key trends that are emerging in college admissions for 2023, and provide five takeaways that you can use to navigate the admissions process with confidence.
5 Trends for College Admissions
Trend 1: College admissions are becoming increasingly competitive.
It’s no secret that application numbers are increasing. Last year in 2022, the UC’s recorded a record high of applications received. While 2023’s UC applications decreased in comparison to 2022, they were still higher than 2021 and overall, we are seeing an increase in numbers across the board at the college admission level. Moreover, statistical data from various schools, taken at a range of ten years, registers a decrease in admission rates at colleges, with the most dramatic registering a decrease of 10 percent. As class sizes remain relatively the same and application numbers increase, selectivity likewise increases as well.
Trend 2: Test optional does not mean the SAT is no longer important.
While many colleges enacted a test optional policy, the SAT remains an important consideration for applications. GPAs fluctuate based on the grading policy of the school, and a 4.0 at one school may not be equivalent to a 4.0 at another school, depending on academic rigor and harshness of grading. The SAT is the sole universal standard of comparison among students. Examination of admissions trends at top colleges, including MIT and Brown, reveals that vast majority admitted students still score high on the SAT, mostly in the above 1550 range. While the UC is test blind, the UC should not be the only college students apply to, and most other public and private universities have a test optional policy.
Trend 3: Hot majors
There are two types of hot majors: 1) those that are more competitive overall due to the immense popularity among applicants and 2) those that are exclusively competitive at a certain college. Of the former, computer science and business are incredibly popular among students and are intensely competitive, with students needing to demonstrate exceptionality to be admitted. Of the latter, some schools have majors that are more competitive than general admission. For instance, UIUC’s engineering major and CMU’s drama major have much lower admission rates compared to other majors. As a response to this, some applicants have applied to tangentially related majors, such as applied mathematics, which in turns drives up the competitiveness of those majors.
Trend 4: The increased use of the waitlist.
As colleges protect their yield during the admissions cycle, there has been increased use of the waitlist. However, despite the liberal use of the waitlist, removal from the waitlist is incredibly low at top colleges. Even so, students are encouraged to not remain passive on the waitlist but to submit a letter of continued interest.
Trend 5: Continuation of the holistic review.
College admissions implement what they deem the holistic review. As the name suggests, the review is meant to view the student as a whole person rather than a few numbers. This means all areas of the application are important: the academic profile, extracurricular profile, and the personal profile. It also indicates that if one element of the application is weaker, then the student needs to be exceptional in another area to compensate. However, the most competitive applicants will be excellent in all areas.
5 Key Takeaways for College Admissions
Takeaway 1: Have reasonable goals and expectations.
As competitiveness increases, it is important to remain grounded and set reasonable goals and expectations. Even highly qualified students are not guaranteed admission to an Ivy League school. Instead of planning a school list based solely on prestige and rankings, consider other important elements, such as location, internship opportunities, campus culture, and overall support for students.
Takeaway 2: Planning early is very important.
College applications starts the first day of high school. Planning is an important part of creating a competitive college profile. From selecting courses, investing in different clubs, starting their own initiatives – the most prestigious activities require time to mature. Most leadership positions require time commitment to a club, the most prestigious summer programs require previous experience and accomplishments in the subject area, and none of these can be pursued last minute. In particular, students should select a focus or potential major direction by the end of 9th grade. While colleges are aware a student’s study and career ambitions can change in the future, an unfocused college profile is one of the worst mistakes a student can make.
Takeaway 3: Be sure to have safety schools.
Due to the competitiveness of applications, it is imperative to have safety schools. These are schools where a student’s chance of admission is near one hundred percent. When constructing a college list, always have reach, target, and safety schools. The majority of schools should be in the target range.
Takeaway 4: Holistic review means each part of the application is important.
It is no longer possible to be admitted to the most competitive schools based on grades alone: academics are necessary but not sufficient. Students need to invest in extracurriculars as well and the essay is crucial to being a competitive applicant. In particular, the essay is the portion of the application that students have the most control over. An insightful and compelling essay can gain students admissions to schools that would otherwise by outside of their reach. Students should start essay brainstorming and drafting early: we recommend students start in May.
Takeaway 5: Choose activities that add value, but define value on an individual basis.
Quality matters over quantity. Colleges are not interested in students that are simply members of twelve different clubs, but want to see students who made tangible and measurable impact in a few activities they were invested in. On a similar note, it is not enough to simply copy the another person’s plans and profile and assimilate it as your own. Admissions values individuality and initiative. Students should choose activities that align with their own personal values and interest, rather than blindly following the crowd.