By Violet W
It’s no secret that college applications have gotten more competitive. As summer approaches, rising seniors should use it wisely to start to prepare for their applications, including going on college visits, beginning to write the college applications, and continuing to build their resume. Here are a few things students preparing for the application season should keep in mind as they begin making their college lists.
Test-optional policies continues
In March 2023, Columbia University was the first Ivy League school to announce that they are going permanently test-optional. The university, along with 1800 other universities and colleges across the nation, have made submitting SAT or ACT scores optional.
Some schools, like the University of California System, California Institute of Technology, and Reed College, have gone to the extreme and are test-blind, meaning that even if students wish to submit their scores with their application, the schools will not consider them in the review process.
Luckily, students not submitting test scores don’t seem to be at a disadvantage. Colgate University released that for its 2027 Class, 56% of admitted students included test scores. For Emory College’s 2027 class, 36% of admitted students included test scores.
As students solidify their college, they should look at the test-optional policies and how long they have been extended. Johns Hopkins University will stay test-optional until the 2025-26 application cycle, whereas the University of Michigan has only announced that its test-optional policies will remain in place for the 2023-24 admissions cycle. On the other hand, Massachusetts Institute of Technology has reinstated the SAT/ACT requirement for all its applicants.
Early applications – very popular
Applying early through Restrictive Early Action, Early Decision and Early Action remains popular with students. These various early application deadlines tend to give students a boost in acceptance rates, with Early Decision usually providing the biggest advantage.
However, this year, early applications tended to skyrocket in popularity. New York University received 22,000 Early Decision applicants, an increase of 14% from the previous cycle. University of North Carolina’s Early Action applications increased by 10% to nearly 38,650.
While students will usually have a higher acceptance rate when applying early, that advantage is starting to dwindle because of the increasing interest in early applications. In addition, students should ensure they have realistic expectations; just because the acceptance rates might be higher for Early Decision, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a better chance of getting accepted. If a student isn’t a competitive applicant, they likely won’t see a significant bump in their odds of acceptance.
Application volume increases
Not only are early applications becoming more popular, but application volume in general to universities also continues to increase. According to the Common Application, the total application volume increased by 30% from 2019-20 to 2022-23. More students are applying and they are applying to more schools on average.
For example, NYU had more than 120,000 applications for its first-year admissions, a 13% increase from the previous cycle. The University of Georgia had more than 43,700 applicants, signifying a 10% increase from its last cycle.
Legacy preferences are decreasing
Traditionally, in college admissions, a “legacy” student was someone whose parents attended the university. According to an article from the Guardian, these policies tend to favor white, affluent students, with 56% of the nation’s top 250 institutions considering legacy in their admission process in 2020.
However, legacy policies have become less of a factor in the admissions decision after the Varsity Blues Scandal in 2019 and litigation brought against top universities like Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. Schools like Cornell University and Amherst College are examples of schools where legacy students won’t get a preference over non-legacy students when applying.
BS/MD programs are even more competitive
Direct medical programs, also known as BS/MD programs, allow students interested in medicine to apply to undergraduate and medical school simultaneously. Once accepted to the program, they will have a guaranteed spot at the partnered medical school. These programs have always been competitive but have gotten even more so in the last few years.
Brown University’s Program in Liberal Medical Education had 4,192 this admissions cycle, compared to 3,827 in 2021-22. Drexel University’s Early Assurance Program saw a similar increase, going from 2298 applications in 2020-21 to 2,705 for the 2021-22 application cycle.
College admissions are more competitive than ever, and rising seniors should spend their summer wisely researching to ensure they find colleges that are a good fit for them. By looking at the trends from previous cycles, they can be armed with information to help them enter the application cycle prepared.
(Violet W is a College Counselor & Outreach Coordinator at Moonprep.)