2022-23 application cycle trends

Posted on 15th May 2023

The 2022-23 application cycle has come to a close; what insights can we glean from that cycle, and what might these insights mean for the next?

The number of applicants to highly selective colleges has been on an upward trajectory for a long time. The pandemic only heightened this trend, with the relaxation of testing policies leading to a huge spike in the number of applications. Last year, however, may have been the high-water mark, at least for now, as several colleges reported a slight decrease in numbers of applicants overall this year, albeit for varying reasons.

At Columbia , which announced on 1 March that it would remain test optional permanently, there were 57,129 applications, 5% down on the 60,000+ applicants to the Classes of 2026 and 2025, and a 9% decrease in Early Decision applications this year. This may have had something to do with the institution’s fall in the U.S. News rankings, after one of its own maths professors questioned the methodology of its statistical reporting. However, applications have still risen sharply from the 40,000 students who applied to the Class of 2024, before the pandemic.

MIT received 26,914 applications this year, a fall of 18% from the 33,000 who applied last year. In this case the reason for the drop-off is clear: MIT reintroduced standardised testing for the 2022-23 admission cycle, and this likely deterred a number of students who might otherwise have submitted an application. At Williams , the fall was significant: this year, the liberal arts college received 11,258 applications across early and regular cycles, down over 25% from last year’s 15,000 (but still more than the Class of 2024).

Some colleges bucked this trend, however. NYU saw a whopping 120,000 applications (a 13% increase on last year’s cohort) and admitted 9,600, for a record-low admit rate of 8%. Three of their undergraduate colleges had admission rates lower than 5%.

The Universities of California data set (which you can view here ) shows some intriguing movement in numbers. The UC universities–particularly UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UC Irvine, all three destinations popular with international students–saw massive increases this cycle in numbers of Californians applying, but big decreases in total number of students admitted. Despite that, however, there were higher admissions for Californians! Consequently, fewer international students were admitted this cycle than the previous. So, students in the next cycle should keep this in mind when adding UCs to their college lists, and not treat UC Irvine as a safe option, as it is quickly becoming selective, particularly for international applicants. 

The above data points to a few key insights. Firstly, it’s important to note that it’s still incredibly tough to get into the most selective colleges in the US. Crucial to receiving successful offers is having a balanced list of colleges with a range of acceptance rates. Students opting only for exclusive colleges should realise that the clue is in the name—they exclude the vast majority of applicants! Secondly, students targeting highly selective colleges should consider applying to one of these colleges in one of the Early Decision rounds, as there is a significant boost in admission rate if students are willing to commit at that stage. They should, however, ensure that they are academically competitive for the college in question.

And—perhaps an inevitable question—what about testing? According to a Common Application report here , since 2019-20, the percentage of colleges requiring test scores has gone from around 55% to 4%. The number of students reporting test scores dropped initially in the 2020-21 cycle from 74% to 40%, and then plateaued around 40-43% in subsequent cycles. So, you can see that although only a small percentage of colleges require the tests, just under half of students are still submitting them. This data bolsters our recommendation to students to test in most cases, as good scores always enhance students’ applications. Additionally, reported score percentages are lower amongst URM, first-generation, and applicants eligible for fee waivers. 

Finally, it’s important for students to consider the central role of fit in the selection process. An aspiring engineering major with only STEM subjects at A-Level and no evidence of interest in the humanities or social sciences is unlikely to be admitted at MIT (because of its requirement for a teacher letter of recommendation in one of those subjects), Columbia, (because of the need to demonstrate suitability for the highly literary Core), or Princeton , (because of the admission requirement of a graded essay). That kind of student is far more likely to be a good fit for places like the College of Engineering at UC Berkeley, the Whiting School of Engineering at JHU , or Georgia Tech , where the liberal arts requirements are less emphasised.

Overall, this application cycle saw a fall in application numbers to some highly selective US colleges, though colleges like NYU and some of the Universities of California saw gains. These colleges, even those that saw decreases in application numbers this cycle, are still extremely competitive even for the most excellent students. Our advice is, as always, that students create balanced college lists and plan to take standardised tests in order to have the best chance of success. For advice on making a testing plan and/or a college list, or to go over your questions about the general US application process, you can get in touch with a Founder to go over your questions by following the link here: www.ueseducation.com/free-call .

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