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Thursday, April 4, 2024

A Look at Ten Recent Admissions Trends


 by Katherine O'Brien, ThD Candidate, Founder of Celtic College Consultants

Admissions trends are interesting. With thousands of colleges, each having its own slant or take on how to evaluate applications and select which students to issue admissions invitations, which to waitlist, and which to decline, pinpointing their rationale is impossible. Nonetheless, as my colleagues and I share our notes and observations on the outcomes for the Class of 2023, various trends emerge. I have gathered and categorized the comments of many colleagues. I am grateful for their public candor, sharing what they have seen with others in our professional communities.

Analytics Screen

1. Increased Use of Enrollment Management Tools

Underlying much of what we see happening are statistical analysis tools used by most colleges to predict yield (the likelihood of each candidate to attend that college if s/he is admitted). This is used to help admissions offices offer the correct number of acceptances in order to yield the number of students the college desires to have for the next class. This information is nuanced in many ways, for example, to ensure that a particular college or major within a university has an appropriate number of students or that the percentage of in state and out of state students is what they desire it to be or to balance the full pay students with students who need deep discounts in order to attend (revenue yield). Correlated to this is the increase we have seen in the laws enacted in many states, setting forth regulations regarding various aspects of college admissions.

2. Larger than Usual Tuition and other Cost Increases

Ascribed to COVID costs and inflation, costs have increased at an increasing rate. Numerous schools now have a cost of attendance of over $90,000 per year. To have the total cost of one year of college nearing the six figure mark is a fact which leads many families to remove those schools from their lists. Either they fear they will not be able to afford even the net cost at these schools (or their student will feel out of place because designer clothes, etc. will not be their norm) or they are affluent families simply unwilling to spend so much on college. College costs have long increased at a rate exceeding other costs and income increases; the jumps in those increases in recent years has been notable, breathtaking even.


3. The Common App is Less Common than it was just a couple of years ago

The Common Application is a platform used by more than 1,000 colleges and universities. It includes common information (demographics, activities, courses and grades, and a main essay) which is sent to every college the student lists. Colleges also include particular questions and supplemental essays which are specific to the college or the major or program the student is applying to. In the past couple of years, the number of these mini-essays has increased significantly. The inclusion of various diversity questions among those supplemental essays has also increased significantly.


4. Student Abilities, A Huge Increase in both Superstars and Poor Communicators

On one end of the spectrum, high achieving students are accomplishing truly incredible things. However, the number of these superstars is also increasing significantly. This means that the pool of top notch students has broadened. Students typically fail to recognize this shift so do not respect the reality of the admissions pools they join. 

On the other end, for several years now, we have noticed a precipitous drop in the caliber of student writing. Composing a sentence has become a major challenge for many. Writing a coherent paragraph is a major accomplishment for most. The introspection and internal reflection required to write truly excellent personal statements, admittedly difficult for teens, has become even more elusive. 

5. Application Inflation

At the same time as we are seeing a swelling in the number of top applicants, we are also seeing an uptick in the number of applications each is submitting. Both of these factors lead to increasingly selective admissions results. Keep in mind that selective admissions tends to work like a magnet for those colleges, attracting even more top notch applicants. Applying to wonderful schools that your peers are not applying to is a prudent practice.


6. Early Decision and Early Application shifts

For high fliers, ED has become a key strategy. Previously, most of us widely discouraged ED applications, because of the commitment they entail, to all but the most dedicated to a particular school students. Now, with many, many colleges and universities filling half or more of their classes from the ED pools, applying Early Decision is key for our top notch students. 

Among our EA applicants, we are seeing farm more deferrals, followed by waitlist placements, rather than acceptances. These factors are making us rethink the advice we give our students.


7. Grade Inflation is Rampant/Test Optional Policies are Smoke and Mirrors

Somehow, 70% of high school students appear to have a 4.0 or higher GPA. One of my colleague mused, wondering if an A now indicates that a student has completed all assignments and requirements. I recently shared the school profile with a student who thought she was a tremendous catch for any college. I showed her that she was in the middle of the pack in her own high school, furthermore in the applicant pool. This sort of reality check is needed all around.

Related to this is the steady return to requiring test scores for admissions. Test optional policies, in many cases, truly are a secret code. They mean: send us your scores, unless you are low income, or have some other significant impediment to taking the tests. If you have such an impediment, it better be evident on the application, along with validation for your academic prowess, whether that be college courses and grades or IB or AP scores... For those of you still unsure, be aware that a higher percentage of the pool of students who apply with ACT or SAT scores is admitted than of the pool of students who do not include those scores.


8. Alternative Avenues to Admissions are Significantly Increasing

Perhaps this is happening in order to have these students not impact the enrollment yield and admissions rate percentages. We are noticing a significant increasing in alternative pathways to college, including summer start, spring start, guaranteed transfer, and first semester abroad programs. One of my colleagues commented about these, capturing the sentiments many of us detect underneath these acceptances, "start here as a second class citizen, so we don't have to count you in our admission rates, etc." (Karime Jankauskas)


9. An increase in Rejections and Wait List Placements

Following from several of the points above, we are all seeing an increase in rejections, particularly unexpected rejections, this year. Several commented that they have seen this, even with demonstrated interest. This trend is particularly difficult for families who have a limited college budget so have chosen schools where their student is overqualified. They are rejected because the colleges don't believe they will actually attend that college, that the applicant is using them as a super-safety school. This is also related to the flood of superstars in the applicant pool as well as various other factors mentioned above.


10. Students Ignoring Advice

This has always been something with which we have to contend. It goes with the territory of working with teens. However, we are noticing a significant increase in students ignoring advice, data, and facts from ourselves, trained, seasoned professionals, as well as from other informed adults in their lives. Instead, we are seeing an increase in students doing their own thing, applying to schools never discussed, etc.



College admissions has never been a straightforward process. One trend which has not changed is that students working with a college consultant fare better in admissions and in their college careers. They are better prepared, have more appropriate college lists, and more polished and authentic applications.

To discuss working with Katherine, kindly email her to inquire regarding her availability. In order to provide top quality personalized services, she limits her cohorts for each graduating class. Her email address is:

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