Published in Forbes: College Admissions Trends for 2023
The year 2023 is likely to continue to see the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on college admissions, as students, universities, and admissions officers continue to navigate the unprecedented changes in the politics and logistics of admissions. While many of the trends from 2022 are expected to persist, there are notable new developments that prospective students should be aware of as they prepare to apply to college.
Test-Optional Admissions Is Here to Stay—For Now
One of the most significant trends in college admissions for 2023 is the continued shift toward test-optional admissions. This trend began in 2020 due to challenges of accessing test centers and concerns about health and safety. However, more and more institutions have extended this policy and some—including Columbia University and William and Mary—have made the test-optional policy permanent. Today, 96% of colleges do not require test scores.
This shift reflects a growing recognition that test scores are not always the best predictor of college success. Other factors such as high school GPA and extracurricular activities may be more relevant in assessing a student’s potential for success in college. Test-optional and test-free policies also reflect a desire to improve educational access and equity, especially for underrepresented students.
However, test-optional and test-free policies have critics, and the trend may reverse in future cycles. A February Fordham Institute report claims that the test-optional and test-free trend is not effectively addressing equity issues. A Hechinger Report article agrees and also claims that test-optional and test-free admissions makes the process more subjective and less fair. Whether or not these competing views will be widely adapted remains to be seen.
At this time, I advise students to take standardized tests and to only submit the test score if is above the middle 50% of pre-pandemic test score averages. Limited data from admissions offices shows submitting a high test score can help students stand out relative to peers.
Early Admission Is Booming—And So Are Deferments
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. However, students should also be prepared for the possibility of deferment, especially at early action colleges, as some schools are experiencing record application volume and are deferring a larger number of students than usual. For example, University of Wisconsin-Madison deferred 17,000 of its 45,000 early action applicants, while Clemson University delivered deferment messages to 15,000 of its 26,000 early applicants.
Where possible, I advise students to apply to one Early Decision 1 school (binding admission policy, roughly November 1 deadline), and, if necessary in the event of denial, to one Early Decision 2 school (binding admission policy, roughly January 1 deadline). Pursuing Early Decision is the best way to demonstrate your interest in a particular college and assure highest consideration in the pool. Keep in mind that Early Decision agreements are a binding contract that may only be broken for financial reasons. Simultaneously, while keeping in mind that a deferment could result, students should take advantage of applying early action (non-binding, non-restrictive, roughly November 1 deadline) to other colleges, where available.
Legacy Preference Likely To Diminish
There is ongoing debate about legacy preferences in college admissions, particularly in light of the ongoing discussion around affirmative action and the forthcoming Supreme Court case. If affirmative action will be ruled as unusable at universities, it is possible that more colleges will seek to end legacy preferences. Legacy preferences give an advantage to applicants who have family members who attended the same college or university, which some argue perpetuates inequality and limits diversity.
Direct Admissions Provides New Pathway To College
While some aspects of college admissions have become more challenging due to the pandemic, new opportunities are also emerging. Two such opportunities are direct admissions programs offered by Niche and Concourse Global. While students do not know which colleges will reach out as a result of direct admissions, students are advised to submit their information and see what offers they receive from colleges. You may find a great scholarship or a hidden gem because you have gone through this process.
ChatGPT Might Eliminate (Some) Essays and Improve Your College Search
The Common App delayed its announcement of the 2023-2024 essay prompts by several weeks, possibly due to ChatGPT concerns. Look out for the possibility that some colleges will drop admission essay requirements; or provide other ways for students to express themselves outside of the traditional essay realm, such as a video interview or portfolio materials. Ahead of the advent of ChatGPT, some colleges had been using ways for students to express themselves beyond the traditional essay, such as research supplements and artifacts. While these options may not be available at every school, they offer a way for students to stand out and demonstrate their creativity and skills in a unique way.
Chatbots can be used to conduct college research efficiently. For example, you can ask ChatGPT to create a list of colleges for you by specific criteria e.g. Can you show me a list of colleges that offer an undergraduate linguistics major and have a strong sports culture in the Northeast of the United States? When using ChatGPT to conduct college research, you can incorporate the information (using original writing) into your supplement essays. Just make sure that you do not rely alone on ChatGPT as a primary source and always ensure accuracy about school information by checking other data sources, such as the college’s website.
In conclusion, college admissions in the 2023-2024 cycle will continue to be impacted by the shifting priorities of colleges and universities as well as new technologies like Direct Admissions and ChatGPT. Prospective students should be aware of the growing trend toward test-optional admissions, the importance of selecting early action or early decision colleges, and the emerging opportunities for creative expression in the application process.