2024 College Admissions Trends

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Last year, college admission trends included an unprecedented increase in college applicants, a decrease in college acceptance rates, the rise of test-optional schools, and the “human” part of the college application becoming more critical. 

But recently, the Supreme Court's decision to end affirmative action and the questioning of legacy admissions, among other factors, have led to significant changes in how students apply to school. 

The 2024 college admissions trend may include continued high applicant competition, early decision being the new regular decision, and the varying importance of personal essays. 

Competition Remains High

Colleges saw a significant influx of applicants during the 2021-2022 admissions cycle, mainly due to schools becoming test-optional. 

The Common Application reported that this trend continued in 2022-2023, with applications through its portal increasing by 7.5% from the previous year. And with a larger body of applicants, admissions rates have declined simultaneously, particularly at highly-selective schools.

Harvard’s regular admission rate dropped from 3.43% last year to a new record low of 3.19%, for example, and Boston University’s admission rate dropped during the same period from 18.3% to 14%.

Institutions face difficult tradeoffs as competition rises for students who can pay tuition. Do they admit more low-income, first-generation students of color or focus solely on the financial bottom line? The decisions are not easy. 

Given this competitive environment, admission experts say students shouldn’t assume they’ll be a ‘shoe-in’ at any school in the coming year. “As the acceptance rates dip lower, even the most qualified candidates cannot be guaranteed an offer of admission,” Lauren Dodington, a college admission advisor at The BestU, said in a recent press release

“Every student, no matter how high their GPA or test scores, should have a range of colleges that are possible fits, including those with acceptance rates at and above 50 percent,” Dodington concluded. 

Early Decision Becomes Regular Decision

Applying to college early means applications are due earlier – usually in November – while regular decision applications are typically due in January. As such, students who submit early decision applications can expect to receive their admission decision sooner, typically by mid-December.

"Selective colleges are filling more of their incoming classes early to reduce the uncertainty of regular-decision cycles, in which students might be weighing acceptances from multiple schools," Jefferey Salingo explained in The Atlantic

Elite colleges, including Harvard, Yale, Penn, and the University of Virginia, received record-high numbers of early applications during the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 admission cycles, which resulted in record-low early admission rates. 

Early acceptance rates remained low for the 2022-2023 admission cycle. Duke University, for example, reported its lowest early decision admission rate ever (16.5%, down 21.3% from the previous admission cycle), and Brown University’s early acceptance rate dropped from 14.6% in 2021-22 to 12.98 in 2022-23.

A benefit of applying early to a college can be additional scholarships, receiving financial aid packages early, and standing out in a smaller pool of applicants. Experts expect this trend to climb in 2024 and beyond. 

The Importance of Personal Essays Varies

The Common App delayed its announcement of the 2023-2024 essay prompts by several weeks, possibly due to ChatGPT concerns. Therefore, students should understand that some colleges may drop admission essay requirements altogether in the coming years. 

“In the year ahead, due to the emergence and prevalence of artificial intelligence software such as ChatGPT, I expect more colleges to either drop their admission essay altogether or expand the format through which students can convey their voice and demonstrate their ability to articulate their opinions and interest,” Rick Clark, assistant vice provost and executive director of undergraduate admissions at the Georgia Institute of Technology said in a recent press release

But for schools still relying on traditional essays, 2023 shaped up to be the "year of the identity-driven essay," likely because it's the "one part of the admissions process in which it is still explicitly legal to discuss race after the Supreme Court banned affirmative action in June," The New York Times reported.

Leveraging Technology for More Holistic, Objective Student Evaluations

The shifting priorities of colleges and universities and new technologies like ChatGPT leave the importance of personal essays during the next admissions cycle a toss-up. Some colleges will continue to emphasize the benefit of personal statements, while others will provide other ways for students to express themselves outside the traditional essay realm, such as video interviews or portfolio materials.

Universities must now look for new ways to engage with students and holistically assess their unique strengths, attributes, and program fit – emerging AI technology, pioneered by Student Select AI, makes it possible. 

Leveraging natural language processing and automated text analysis, Student Select AI cuts time-to-decision in half by pulling complete personality, professional competency, and motivational trait scoring right from the words students use to describe themselves and their experiences in their application essays, interviews, or other written materials or conversational engagements. 

“Our goal is to give admissions teams more time to focus on meaningful interactions with applicants while also providing more and better data than has ever been available, so you can select the applicants who are most likely to succeed in your unique program, cohort, and institution,” explains Chief Technology Officer Will Rose. 

In fact, universities using Student Select AI have seen time-to-decision cut in half, while also increasing acceptance rates for students from underrepresented groups by as much as 80% – simply by providing more complete, holistic, and objective student evaluation data. 

Ready to start measuring what matters? 

‍Schedule a discovery call with one of our admissions experts to learn how Student Select AI can help you reduce decision-making time, improve inclusivity and diversity, and increase confidence in admissions decisions and outcomes.

College admissions trends we’ve seen in 2023 may carry over to the 2024 admission decision cycle, including high competition, early decision becoming regular decision, and the varying importance of personal essays.


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