The college admissions process is constantly evolving and changing each year.

To give yourself the best shot at admittance at the schools of your choice, it’s important to stay up to date on recent developments. Here are six admissions trends you should be aware of as you’re applying to and enrolling in college.

1. Lowered Sticker Price

As private colleges struggle to compete with more affordable tuition at public universities, some are restructuring their pricing. In many cases, that means lowering tuition and awarding fewer merit scholarships. “At some colleges, since virtually all accepted applicants were offered a merit scholarship, the tuition quoted on colleges’ websites and literature was actually inflated,” says Terry Mady-Grove of Charted University Consultants. “Many have reversed this trend by reducing tuition to a more realistic level. Even though merit scholarships were reduced proportionately, families have a better idea of costs from the beginning.” A high initial price tag could be a barrier to applying, even if a family ultimately pays less than the full amount of the posted tuition. 

2. More Schools Take the Test-Optional Route

While test-score-optional application criteria are not new per se, the trend cracked the top 10 national universities when the University of Chicago — ranked No. 6 by U.S. News and World Report — announced it too was no longer requiring SAT® or ACT® scores. Chicago joins other highly selective names like Smith, Bowdoin and George Washington University, which allow, but do not require, students to submit their scores.

This comes as welcome news for students whose standardized test scores do not accurately reflect their strengths, but Bethany Goldszer of Standout College Prep adds a caveat: It can make competitive schools even more competitive. “[A shift to test-score-optional] usually results in an increased number of applications, which will push their acceptance rate down,” Goldszer says. “But it will also encourage students who would not have applied to do so and lead to more acceptances among historically underrepresented groups.”

3. Over Enrollment Overloads Some Schools

In general, college enrollment is declining, but some schools are more popular than ever. So popular that too many students are enrolling. In 2017, University of California, Irvine, rescinded nearly 500 admissions offers after more freshmen enrolled for fall semester than expected. That move resulted in quite an uproar, and the college ended up re-extending many of the rescinded offers. 

The admissions officers at Virginia Tech may have learned a lesson from UC Irvine’s mistakes when 1,000 more students than expected enrolled for the fall 2019 semester. Instead of rescinding admissions, the school offered about 1,500 students three options: take a gap year and receive a $1,000 scholarship, enroll in a year of community college covered by a grant from Virginia Tech or start school in the summer at no cost and take the fall and spring semesters off. In the meantime, the school scrambled to add sections of popular courses, convert dorm lounges into multi-person rooms and hire additional faculty, advising and support staff. 

4. Larger Waitlists Than Ever

While the number of students on waitlists each year has increased, the chances of being accepted off a waitlist have decreased, especially at the most competitive schools. The average number of students offered a waitlist position increased by 12% between 2016 and 2017 and by 16% the year before. 

What’s causing schools to balloon their waitlists? High school seniors are applying to more colleges than ever before. While that trend could lead to students declining more admissions offers than ever before, college admissions departments are using their waitlists as a way to minimize the decrease in matriculation rates. Matriculation rates are a factor in college rankings and “because rankings are so important to schools, they are protective of their [admission] yield,” says Benjamin Caldarelli, co-founder of Princeton College Consulting. “Colleges are able to get a higher yield rate by waitlisting students they are less sure [will accept their offer],” he explains. Adding more students to the waitlist is a practical solution from the school’s perspective because it allows flexibility in managing their admissions offers. 

5. Admissions Officers View Students’ Social Media Less

Between 2015 and 2018, the number of admissions officers who say they look up applicants on social media dropped from 40% to 25%, according to a Kaplan Test Prep survey. Per the survey’s findings, this decline is caused in part by changing attitudes toward social media and elevated concerns about privacy. Admissions officers simply don’t think checking students’ social media accounts is fair game like they used to.

Another contributing factor to this falling number? Students’ profiles have become increasingly hard to find. Fifty-two percent of admissions officers who’ve visited applicants’ accounts say they’ve noticed teens have become better at staying hidden on social media. Teens now favor Instagram and Snapchat, two platforms that make it easier to stay private, and Facebook, a platform not as privacy-friendly, has plummeted in popularity

6. Applying to Colleges Abroad

Often with lower tuition rates than American schools, universities abroad — particularly in countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands and Germany — have become more appealing to American students. Sharon Olofsson, an independent college consultant near Boston, has seen an uptick in international applications and hears the same report from colleagues elsewhere in the United States.

“In many countries, a bachelor’s degree takes only three years instead of four. So even at expensive universities like Oxford and Cambridge, there’s a savings compared to the sticker price for similar top-tier schools in the United States,” says Olofsson. 

Schools in non-English-speaking countries are attractive because many offer undergraduate programs in English. Olofsson notes this is particularly popular in the Netherlands, where there are over 300 undergraduate programs taught in English. “Besides the financial benefit, these schools offer the opportunity to gain a global perspective, international work experience and, in some cases, foreign language immersion,” explains Olofsson.


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