Written by Joy Bullen | April 17, 2023
Admissions Trends and Tips from Jeff Selingo
For the third year in a row, the number of college applications submitted to top colleges was up, indicating that the application swell that occurred during the pandemic is now the norm. The number of students applying to college has stayed roughly the same over the past few years, but the convenience of online applications like the Common App and the rise of test optional policies has made it easier for students to apply to more schools. The increase in applicants is disproportionately focused on a relatively small number of top colleges.
More applications means more competition (theoretically), which means it’s more important than ever for students to understand the latest admissions trends and have a clear strategy for applying to college. Jeff Selingo, author of the popular college admissions book Who Gets In and Why and a journalist who has specialized in higher ed for decades, spoke on admissions trends at a recent webinar hosted by Huntington Learning Center. We attended the webinar and pulled out some key insights and tips from Jeff Selingo to help you better understand the state of college admissions, and create your strategy for navigating the college application process during the 2023-24 season.
First, an important reminder: "Most schools admit most students."
In the webinar, Jeff Selingo called out that it is not his intention to increase stress around what is already an incredibly stressful process for many families. At College Confidential, we wholeheartedly agree, and we're on a mission to reduce stress and make applying to college an easier and more joyful process. Selingo reminded students that there are around 4000 colleges in the United States, and approximately 1400 of those are four-year schools. Out of those 1400 four-year colleges, there are only about 200 schools that accept fewer than 50 percent of applicants. Out of the other 1200 four-year schools out there, the average acceptance rate is 65 percent.
“Most colleges accept most students,” Jeff Selingo reminded students and parents who feel their heart rate rising everything they even think about applying to college. With that in mind, with so many options to choose from, it’s still crucial to have a solid strategy for building your list and applying to the right schools at the right time.
Admissions Trend: Schools are admitting more early applicants
One major trend in recent years is the rise of more application deadlines and early options, such as Early Decision (ED) I and II and Early Action (EA). According to the Common Application, 37 percent of its member schools now offer some EA/ED options. In the past, colleges admitted a small percentage of their applicants via early admissions, but the rise in applicants has made it more important for schools to be able to more accurately protect their yield, or how many students will attend. Binding options like Early Decision I & II mean colleges can be assured that the student they admit will actually attend. And even non-binding Early Action gives schools a better sense of which students have put them at the top of their lists.
Early admissions options also extend the length of the college review period. Since early applications are generally due in the Fall and reviewed in November and December, schools don’t have to invest in hiring more readers to meet increased demand during the peak review months of January, February and March. All of this means that schools are admitting a much larger percentage of their class during early application deadlines and then deferring large numbers of applicants to the regular admissions cycles.
Take Clemson University, for example, which offered Early Action (EA) for the first time this year. Clemson received a total of 58,000 applications for an incoming class of 4,500 students. Of these, 26,000 applications (or 44 percent) were submitted Early Action. Clemson deferred 15,000 of those applications to the regular decision cycle to be reviewed again alongside the other 32,000 applicants who did not apply EA. Yes–you read those numbers correctly. Clemson deferred enough early action students to fill their incoming class three times over.
Application Tip: Create an early decision strategy by summer or early Fall
According to Selingo, this trend towards more early acceptances doesn’t necessarily mean that all students should apply early. Students who want to be able to compare financial aid packages may be better served by skipping the binding commitment of ED, though early action could still be a viable option. It does, however, mean that all students should have a well-considered application strategy, even if that strategy is to forego applying early. Creating a solid early application strategy requires having a good handle on your college list during the Spring and Summer before applying and weighing the pros and cons of the different admissions deadlines.
When researching schools, look at the percentage of applicants they admit early. (If the info is available, you can find the ED/EA acceptance rates from the Common Data Set on College Confidential’s school pages, under the Admissions tab for each school. See an example for Kenyon here, which accepted 62 percent of students who applied early, compared to an overall acceptance rate of 37 percent.)
If your top choice school admits a significantly higher percentage of its incoming class early, it might be a good idea to consider an early application. Students may also want to consider which schools to apply to EDI, EDII and EA. Yes, you can apply to more than one school early, as long as you approach it thoughtfully. If applying EDI, choose a school that you would be thrilled to attend if you were admitted. If you don’t get in, have your application materials ready to submit for EDII or EA at your second choice school. Students can apply to both ED and EA to schools, as long as they understand that if they are offered admission to both schools, they must go with the ED school since their application came with a binding commitment.
Application Tip: Don’t Waste Application Space Explaining Your Weaknesses
Filling out college applications takes a lot of time, but that doesn’t mean colleges spend a lot of time reviewing them. Selingo says that, on average, admissions officers spend between 8 and 12 minutes per application, and sometimes much less. When completing your application, focus on “putting your best foot forward” and highlight the items that make the best case for why you belong at their school.
Unless you have a really extenuating circumstance, don't waste valuable application space explaining away the weak parts of your applications. Focus on your strengths and on showing the admissions committee who you are and what matters most to you. Be sure that everything you do share is easy to understand, because admissions officers won’t have time to google words or abbreviations to figure out what they mean. Avoid using acronyms and school-specific jargon that might confuse the reader.
Application Tip: Choose your classes and your recommenders wisely
Admissions officers will look at your transcripts, and they’ll be looking to see not only the classes you took, but the classes you didn’t take. Did you challenge yourself? Colleges will want to know if you took advantage of the classes your school offered and took at least some of the most challenging courses available.
Recommendations are another part of the application that admissions reps do read carefully, so choose your recommenders wisely. Pick people who know you well and can speak to your specific strengths.
Admissions Trend: Test Optional Policies Are Here to Stay
Another trend that has emerged in recent years is the move toward test-optional admissions. Since test centers were closed during the pandemic, many schools decided to create a temporary test-optional policy for students. Since then, a lot of schools have extended the policy, or even announced that they’ve decided to go permanently test optional, or even test blind. The rise of these policies has been relief for many prospective students, but left others more confused than ever.
Application Tip: Take the Test And Then Decide Whether To Submit Scores or Not
To submit, or not to submit? That is the question. Before deciding whether to submit your scores, Selingo highly recommends that students prepare for and take the ACT or the SAT. Once you have scores are in hand, they can be your most useful tool for deciding whether to submit or not.
First, take a close look at the SAT and ACT ranges for schools on your list. (If available, you can find test score percentiles and the number of students who submitted scores on the Admission tab of the college profiles. See this example from NYU.)
If your scores fall in the top 25 percent of all applicants, it’s almost definitely a good idea to submit them because they will only help your application. If your scores are above the 50 percent range but below the top 25 percent, you may want to submit scores, especially if your GPA is below average for the school or other areas of your application are less competitive. If your scores are below the 50 percent range for admitted students, and the school you're applying to is test optional, it’s probably best to skip submitting them.
Interestingly, Selingo noted that students with a B+ and A- averages were more likely to submit their test scores than students with solid A averages, most likely because they thought high test scores would help balance out their GPA. Students from high income zip codes, who historically have performed better on admissions tests, were also more likely to submit their scores.
Selingo also recommends that students ask their high school counselor where their test scores fall compared to other students at your high school. If your scores are significantly higher than the average for your high school, it might be a good idea to submit them because that will show the admissions committee that you did better than peers with access to similar test prep resources.
And last but not least, remember that schools with test-optional admissions may still consider test scores when offering merit-based scholarships and grants. If you’re on the fence about submitting your scores, inquire about how test scores factor into scholarships and other merit aid.
Admissions Trends: Some schools are ”Buyers” and some are “Sellers”
More applications than ever means more rejections than ever too. But remember what Selingo said, ”Most colleges accept most students” and the swell in applications is mostly focused on a relatively small number of top colleges. When crafting your list, consider including some of the schools that are still clamoring for students.
Selingo likes to think of these schools using a concept he created that categorizes schools as either “Buyers” and “Sellers.” A “Buyer” is a school that is in high demand and doesn’t need to offer discounts or merit aid to attract students. What makes a school a buyer or a seller is a little bit complicated, but an easy rule of thumb is that a school that accepts fewer than 30 percent of all applicants is most likely a Seller, and one that accepts more than 30 percent is likely a Buyer. This criteria doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of the education or even the academic background of students. It only reflects how popular and selective a specific school is right now.
Application Tip: Aim to apply to around 10-12 schools, including some "sellers"
These days, some students apply to upwards of 20 schools, but Selingo doesn’t think that’s necessary. He recommends creating a list of about 12 carefully-chosen schools, including 3-4 reach schools, 3-4 target schools, and 3-4 likely schools. To determine which schools belong in which bucket, refer to the schools admissions data. A reach school is a school where your GPA and test scores fall below the 25th percentile for admitted students. A target school is one where your scores are solidly average for admitted students, and a likely school is one where your scores are in the top 25 percentile.
When choosing likely schools, it’s important to look at the financial piece of the puzzle too, especially if you’re planning to use financial aid. But when applying to colleges, it’s crucial to have at least some Sellers on your list because Sellers are more likely to admit applicants and more likely to try to entice admitted students to enroll by offering tuition discounts or merit scholarships.
You can see a full list of schools considered Buyers and Sellers on Jeff Selingo’s website.
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Another 2023 college admissions trend is the continued importance of selecting colleges with early action and early decision options. Roughly 50% of applicants apply early, and colleges often fill a significant portion (50-60%) of their incoming class through early decision.Is it easier to get into college in 2023? ›
Numerous degree-seeking students may find getting into college in 2023 harder than the previous years. Trends such as going test-optional, increasing diversity and emphasis on demonstrated interest can make the admissions process competitive, especially at institutions known for their high selectivity level.What is the best time to apply for fall 2023? ›
College Application Deadlines for Fall 2023.
|Application Deadline||Admission Decision|
|Early Decision||November 2022||December 2022|
|Regular Decision||January/February 2023||March/April 2023|
You should start the application process the summer before your senior year.What are three key steps in the college application process? ›
- Create a list of colleges you're interested in.
- Research and visit schools to narrow down the list.
- Fill out the FAFSA®, and consider finances and scholarship opportunities.
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The average score for the Evidence-Based Writing (ERW) section is 529, and the average score for the Math section is 521. A good SAT Score for 2023 will likely be close to 1050 as well.Will colleges require SAT for class of 2023? ›
But for now, the short answer is that most colleges are not requiring SAT or ACT test scores for the class of 2023.How many colleges should I apply to 2023? ›
Every year, prospective college students wonder, "How many colleges should I apply to?" As a general rule of thumb, some admissions experts recommend submitting applications to 4-12 schools.What scares you the most about the college application process? ›
Rejection: As a High school student one of my biggest fears about the college application process is rejection. Coming from a very competitive college prep school, going to college has never even been a question. And on top of that, getting accepted to a prestigious college is expected.
- Breathe. ...
- Make a plan, step by step. ...
- Ask for help. ...
- Reflect on your accomplishments and positive qualities. ...
- Take time to play and relax. ...
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Courses and Grades
A student's grades in college-preparatory classes remain the most significant factor in college admission decisions. Highly selective colleges look for students who: Complete core academic requirements.
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2022–23 Academic Year
The FAFSA form must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Central time (CT) on June 30, 2023. Any corrections or updates must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CT on Sept. 9, 2023.
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The important thing to know is that colleges do look at your senior year grades. So, a weaker performance in senior year than in previous grades can impact your application and college admissions decisions.
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- Academic Support and Career Services. ...
- Campus Life. ...
- Athletics and Extracurricular Activities. ...
- Majors and Minors. ...
- Class Size. ...
- Cost and Fees. ...
- Location and Distance From Home. ...
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Almost every senior receives at least one college rejection letter. This is tough advice, but try not to take the rejection personally. Most U.S. colleges admit a majority of applicants. Only 3.4% of schools fall into the most selective category, meaning they admit fewer than 10% of applicants.Do colleges tell you why they rejected you? ›
While colleges are not likely to share their specific reasons for rejecting an application, colleges do tell you if they rejected you. For students wondering what to do if you get rejected from all colleges, you may want to consider taking a gap year and reapplying next year.What to do if a college rejects you? ›
- You Can Write an Appeal Letter. ...
- Know You are not alone. ...
- It's not personal. ...
- Don't Dwell on the “what ifs” ...
- Celebrate the acceptance letters. ...
- Embrace the schools that did accept you. ...
- Consider Your other options.
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The SAT is set to switch from a paper and pencil format to a digital format in 2023 and 2024.What is a great SAT score 2023? ›
If you get a composite SAT score of 1083 or more, you are above average. The 75th percentile composite SAT test score is 1215, the 90th percentile is 1340, and the 95th percentile is 1410. This table, which is based on College Board data, lists the percentile ranking for various composite SAT scores.
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At least 1,835 four-year colleges across the U.S. aren't requiring first-year applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores for admissions for fall 2023, a signal of the staying power of test-optional policies.Is it OK to apply to 4 colleges? ›
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- Never rehash your academic and extracurricular accomplishments.
- Never write about a "topic"
- Never start with a preamble.
- Never end with a “happily ever after” conclusion.
- Never pontificate.
- Never retreat into your thoughts.
- Not taking enough time. ...
- Choosing a college for its reputation. ...
- Not visiting the campus. ...
- Overemphasizing your current major. ...
- Not applying because of cost. ...
- Thinking you won't qualify for financial aid. ...
- Missing deadlines. ...
- Assuming rejection.
ACT / SAT Test scores
No matter which you take (colleges don't actually prefer SAT or ACT scores over the other) higher test scores will increase your acceptance odds. Not only that, but ACT / SAT scores can also qualify you for scholarships and certain forms of financial aid.
Stress and anxiety in college students can be caused by several factors. Some common causes of anxiety include transitions, academic pressure, peer pressure, new social settings, and unmet expectations. Knowing what is causing student anxiety makes identifying coping skills easier.
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- Have a diverse list of extracurricular activities.
- Challenge yourself.
- Go beyond the norm in a college essay.
- Show grades trending up.
- Demonstrate interest in the college.
- Schedule an interview if possible.
Are high waisted pants out of style 2023? High waist pants are out of fashion for spring 2023 – especially the carrot pants, paper bag pants and palazzo pants. And high waisted pants will be out of style for fall winter 2023/24, too. In fact, the high waist pants were not seen on the fall winter 2023/24 runways.What is the acceptance rate for the new school 2023? ›
- Rihanna's Super Bowl Halftime.
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For Fall 2023, the company predicts bold hues like Rose Violet (a red-tinged fuchsia), Red Orange (a vibrant, fiery orange), Red Dahlia (a deep red), High Visibility (an almost-neon yellow), Kohlrabi (a playful, vivid green) and Viva Magenta (the 2023 Color of the Year) will take over our wardrobes, per WWD.Will leggings be in style in 2023? ›
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- North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NC)
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- The Davidson Academy (NV)
- MA Academy for Math & Science School (MA)
- Northside College Preparatory High School (IL)
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- Cameron University. ...
- California State University-Bakersfield. ...
- Dixie State University. ...
- CUNY Medgar Evers College. ...
- Granite State College. Concord, NH. ...
- Metropolitan State University. Saint Paul, MN. ...
- Lake-Sumter State College. Leesburg, FL. ...
- Donnelly College. Kansas City, KS.