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College Admissions Trends 2024

College admissions is an ever-changing landscape, and this year is no exception. From changes in standardized testing policies, shifting ideas about the personal essay, an overhaul of the FAFSA, and more, here is a breakdown of the college admissions trends during the 2023-2024 cycle and how this might affect applicants going forward.


It seems like the college admissions process gets increasingly more complicated and competitive every year — from the significant increase in the number of applications post-COVID to the debates and Supreme Court cases around student debt forgiveness and affirmative action to plummeting acceptance rates for Ivy League schools, it’s understandable why high schoolers are overwhelmed by college applications well before they are seniors. 

Now that most college applicants have received their acceptances and rejections this cycle, we’re here to break down the trends in college admissions for the 2023-2024 cycle and prepare you for what is to come in future college admissions cycles. 

Financial Aid and Scholarship Trends in College Admissions

If you or your child is applying to a U.S. college or university and you’re seeking financial aid, you’re probably familiar with the FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form. This application, which is usually completed independently of college applications, is used by the government to “determine how much financial aid you’re eligible to receive, which could include grants, scholarships, work-study funds, and loans,” according to the FAFSA website.

This year, there was a complete overhaul of the FAFSA after a mandate from Congress in December to reform the application, which has long been known for its outdated use of technology and complicated questions. However, the new FAFSA faced even more issues — students were encountering glitches that rejected information put into the form, and completed FAFSAs were not sent to public institutions until mid-March. For instance, it took until April 30th for the Education Department to fix an issue that would not let applicants submit the form if it included information about anyone who did not have a Social Security number, primarily affecting students whose parents are not US citizens, according to USA Today.

This means that students could not adequately assess how much aid they’d be receiving from these public schools, making it impossible for many students to compare their options for higher education. Therefore, students are running out the clock for some decision deadlines (particularly the May 1st deadline), especially for private schools that may have already sent out aid package information to accepted students.

This chaos particularly complicated the college admissions process for low-income students. At least 80% of US college students rely completely on financial aid (according to data from the 2019-2020 school year), but as of mid-April 2024, 29% fewer high schoolers had completed their FASA compared to last year, according to the National College Attainment Network.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen what problems could arise or be addressed in future cycles of college admission, but the fact remains that this year’s FAFSA debacle could’ve negatively impacted college enrollment numbers for several years to come.

Requiring Standardized Tests as an Admission Trend

Standardized testing has long been a topic of heated discussion in the college admissions process, especially amidst many selective schools’ pandemic-prompted decisions to drop testing requirements altogether and/or go “test-optional.”

However, many selective institutions, namely Dartmouth, Yale, and Brown, are now revising these policies. Yale has opted for what they call a “test-flexible” policy, meaning that students must submit a standardized test score but can choose between submitting ACT, AP, IB, or SAT scores; Dartmouth and Brown are simply reinstating their old standardized testing requirements from pre-COVID days, citing “new data” that has convinced them to make this decision. Harvard also recently announced that students applying in fall 2025 onwards will need to meet the previous standardized testing requirements, despite previously committing to a test-optional policy through fall 2026.

This will certainly impact the way rising high school seniors should allocate their time throughout the next few months — now, on top of the usual college tours and outlining Common App personal statements, students should probably go back to studying for the SAT and ACT. Still, some schools may retain test-blind or test-optional policies, so it’s just important to keep abreast of current standardized testing requirements when making your college list.

Other College Admissions Trends

More college admissions trends we’ve seen in the 2023-2024 cycle have included changing ideas about how admissions officers are evaluating personal statements in the college admissions process, the increased popularity of applying to top schools early, the introduction of “digital admissions“ powered by Artificial Intelligence, advancing DEI initiatives, and the ever-changing landscape of international student admissions. Students, their families, and college counselors should be aware of these changes as they will likely alter the college admissions landscape for many incoming freshmen classes in the future.

Changes to the College Essay

Duke University announced this year that they will no longer give essays and standardized testing scores numerical ratings in the undergraduate admissions process. As we discussed in our breakdown of Yale College Admissions officers’ evaluation of one of our H&C Admissions Counselor’s Yale application, this has long been a way for an admissions office, particularly at one of the most selective colleges in the country that receives thousands of applications yearly, to quickly and effectively evaluate students.

The Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag attributed this change largely to an increase in AI-generated writing in application essays. “Essays are very much part of our understanding of the applicant, we’re just no longer assuming that the essay is an accurate reflection of the student’s actual writing ability,” he wrote in an email to The Duke Chronicle. “Because of that they are not given a numerical rating, but considered as we think holistically about a candidate as a potential member of the Duke community.”

It seems like other schools seem to be following suit when it comes to cracking down on AI use in the essay-writing process — the University of Southern California, for instance, said in a statement to CalMatters that if a student used generative AI in any part of their application, it would be immediately rejected.

Increase in Early Applications

It’s an oft-repeated piece of advice when it comes to applying to prestigious schools, which often boast the most competitive applicant pool in the world, it’s best practice to apply early to increase your chances of standing out among the crowd.

However, now it seems like every college applicant is heeding that advice — according to Forbes, the “total application volume to returning Common App member schools through November 1 rose 65% from 2019–20 (2,028,507) to 2023–24 (3,353,516).” Between the many variations of Early Action and Early Decision programs available at colleges nowadays, students with a specific dream school, even if it’s one of the most competitive schools in the country, do — statistically — have a better chance of getting in, despite steadily declining admissions rates.

Digital Transformation

Many institutions of higher education are embracing and implementing the practice of “digital transformation,” which is the process of using digital tools like data and technology to deliver value and drive change. In practice, this means there is an uptick in the amount of software and tools that help guide students, especially first-generation students and those from low-income backgrounds, through the college application process, like the Salesforce-designed program most recently put into place by the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS).

This also means a simplification of the application process for college admissions officers as well. For instance, Airr, an AI-powered Rapid Transcript Processor, has the potential to overhaul transcript processing, making it easier for college admissions offices to quickly analyze a student’s quantitative profile and compare it with that of other applicants. More and more competitors to all of these programs are emerging on the market very quickly, promising to revolutionize and affect college admissions for years to come.

Advancing DEI

The Supreme Court case Fisher v. University of Texas has altered the consideration of race in college admissions for the foreseeable future. The end of race-conscious admissions has many experts and professionals in higher education worried about the future of diversity and the presence of minority students on college campuses. The decision also impacted how students can speak about their experiences as members of a particular racial group in their essays.

Rich Reddick, a leading thinker on DEI in higher education, gave the following advice to students on the matter in an episode of The Harvard EdCast: “I think students and people who are applying for universities should be talking — as they always should be talking about the way that their experiences have shaped their lives. And… race and gender and sexual orientation and socioeconomic status among other things are very salient parts of how we navigate the world. So I expect that students and applicants will start talking about those things more explicitly. I think also, it sounds to me that the folks who are helping students think about accessing higher education, it would be important for them to recall and remember… that is part of what you can talk about. And they should talk about it and in all its forms”

International Student Admissions

There has been a significant increase in international student enrollment in the past few years, even surpassing pre-pandemic international enrollment numbers. According to Inside Higher Ed, “American institutions hosted 1,057,188 international students [in the 2022-2023 school year], a 12 percent increase over 2021-22 and the fastest rate of growth in 40 years.” There was particularly a surge in interest from India and sub-Saharan Africa, suggesting that the efforts of schools to increase the number of international students on campus have been and will continue to be successful.


As we’ve seen time and time again, especially over the last few years, the landscape of college admissions is ever-changing, and this year was no exception. Regardless of where you are in your high school year, it’s good to keep abreast of these trends in order to maximize your potential chances of attending your dream school in the future.

Planning for college applications can be difficult — we’re here to help. Set up a free consultation with one of our college admissions consultants today.

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