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Early Admission Trends of the 2023–2024 College Application Cycle

The best way to prep for college admission is to look at the previous application cycle, especially if you're applying early. Here's what's been trending.

Applying to college via early admission has always been a strategic move for students aiming to bolster their chances of acceptance. However, with schools like Duke University reporting an Early Decision acceptance rate of just 12.9%, applying early is by no means a sure thing. Nonetheless, it remains an improvement to students’ chances, considering Duke’s anticipated Regular Decision acceptance rate for the Class of 2028 is 4.5% after Early Decision applicants have claimed roughly half of the available seats.

Since the pandemic, Moon Prep has seen huge changes in college admission trends that have turned the higher education world on its head, including new test-optional policies and the reversal of race-based admission decisions. Here are some of the most notable changes from the 2023–2024 admission season to help you prepare for the future.

Application numbers continue to increase

Over the past few years, students have submitted more college applications through the Common App than ever before, with the total volume of applicants to Common App schools increasing by 65% since 2019–2020. Consequently, many schools have lower early acceptance rates than previous years; Yale University saw its lowest acceptance rate in the last 20 years at 9.02%. But it’s not just highly competitive schools that are seeing an increase in applications—the University of Georgia had a 3.5% increase in Early Action applications, and the University of Tennessee received 49,248 early admission applicants (10,774 more than the previous application cycle), marking their most competitive pool yet.

Related: 5 Recent and Interesting College Admission Trends Students Should Know About

Test-optional remains murky but popular with students

Students still love the option of applying to college without submitting standardized test scores, with more than 415,000 Common App applicants (roughly half) not reporting scores this year—an almost 20% increase from last year. While schools like Dartmouth College and Brown University will require at least some form of score reporting, others like Emory University, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, and Carleton College—just to name a few—have announced admission will remain test-optional through at least the 2025 application cycle. However, some highly selective schools have reversed their test-optional policies earlier than planned; Harvard University will now require standardized test scores for the 2024–2025 cycle—a year earlier than previously announced—citing a study that “found that test scores were a better predictor of academic success in college than high school grades.” This quickly changing landscape of test-optional policies has left many students grappling and unsure whether to invest time and resources into standardized testing for college admission.

More diverse students are applying

The increased diversity of students applying to college is another ongoing trend that has continued from last year. Since fall 2019, the number of applicants identifying as an underrepresented minority has increased by 67%, with those identifying as first-generation students also increasing at the same rate. The rate of growth of American Indian or Alaska Native (86%) and Black or African American (70%) applicants has been the most significant. In response to the reversal of race-based admission decisions, some universities have updated essay requirements. This year, Northwestern University’s essay prompt asked students:

We want to be sure we’re considering your application in the context of your personal experiences: What aspects of your background, your identity, or your school, community, and/or household settings have most shaped how you see yourself engaging in Northwestern’s community, be it academically, extracurricularly, culturally, politically, socially, or otherwise?

Essays like this give students the opportunity to highlight their unique backgrounds and experiences while also helping colleges maintain a diverse class.

Deferrals pile and waitlists grow longer

Another impact the pandemic has had on early admission trends is the use of applicant waitlists. Due to uncertainty surrounding increasing applications and enrollment numbers at top universities, many colleges have started to use waitlists or defer students more heavily. For example, of the nearly 41,000 Early Action applicants who applied to the University of Southern California this year, more than 38,000 were deferred to Regular Decision. Florida Atlantic University implemented a waitlist for the first time ever, anticipating sending final decisions to students by May 31.

Related: How to Escape Your Dream College's Waitlist

As the college admission landscape continues to evolve, students should do consistent research and look at past admission trends to help them make the best college search and admission decisions for them. Be sure to reflect on these admission trends in particular to help you determine whether applying early is the right choice for you.

Start building your college list ASAP with our College Search tool so you can be prepared for whatever the next admission cycle may bring!  

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About Lindsey Conger

Lindsey Conger

Lindsey Conger is a college counselor and tutor at Moon Prep.


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