Top College Admissions Trends in 2018

March 26, 2018

“Holistic admissions, applications rise, demonstrated interest, SAT goodbyes…”

There are enough hot-button issues taking center stage in the admissions world in 2018 to add a verse to Billy Joel’s classic “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Unfortunately, the above topics didn’t sound nearly as melodic as Joel’s chronicling of the key events of the second half of the 20th century, so we decided to instead provide you with a far more readable top-five list. Let’s get started.

1. Holistic admissions

Back in 1975, when a handful of East Coast liberal arts colleges first formed what would later become the Common Application, the intent was twofold: first, to streamline the college application process to make the effort of applying to multiple schools less wasteful and redundant; second, to make the process more holistic by standardizing the use of recommendations and essays. In 2014, the organization dropped this holistic requirement because the felt it was inherently at odds with their mission to promote access—many in the admissions world were not happy with the shift.

Ironically, given its origins, it is the Common Application that is under assault as being the antithesis of a holistic tool. Challengers have arisen, most notably, The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success which now claims 130 of the nation’s top colleges and universities as members. The Coalition App strives to take the application process in a vastly more holistic direction. Students are given a digital “locker” in which they can enclose writing samples, multimedia artifacts that represent their unique passions or talents, and are encouraged to connect with mentors of all varieties (guidance counselors, admissions officers, and community members) to seek out advice as early as freshman year. We fully expect that the holistic trend will continue into 2018 and beyond.

2. Expansion of test-optional, flexible policies

Every year, an impressive list of nationally recognizable schools take the “test-optional” plunge, jettisoning the SATs and ACTs as required components in the application process. There are now over 1,000 test-optional colleges and universities in the U.S. This group includes many of the nation’s most selective liberal arts institutions, such as Wesleyan, Bowdoin, Bates, Dickinson, Franklin & Marshall as well as many universities, like Wake Forest, American, GW, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Other elite schools like Middlebury, Colby, and Colorado College have adopted “test-flexible” policies where SAT Subject Test scores or IB/AP test scores can take the place of the traditional SAT/ACT requirement.

Given that standardized testing policies are ever-changing, it’s important that you research SAT/ACT requirements at all of your prospective schools. College Transitions’ Dataverse is happy to save you time with our sortable spreadsheet covering test optional/flexible, Superscore, Score Choice, and ACT/SAT writing policies at 366 of the nation’s top institutions.

3. The continued rise of “demonstrated interest”

As May 1st approaches, the tension is palpable in college admissions offices across the country. This is day on which the admissions staff is expected to have met their enrollment goals for the following school year. Incredibly only 34% of four-year institutions in the United States actually achieved this in 2017.

The 34% that were successful relied on high “yield rates,” that is the percentage of admitted students that actually enrolled in their school. One way for admissions officers to up their yield rate is to admit students that have “demonstrated interest” in their school through social media engagement, e-mail contact, a campus visit, or attending a regional admissions event, thus it is little surprise why the act of demonstrating interest cracks our top-five list.

According to the most recent National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) survey, 14% of colleges and universities consider demonstrated interest as having “considerable importance” in the admissions process; another 26% of institutions rated it as being of “moderate importance.” For perspective, class rank, extracurricular activities, SAT Subject Tests, and the interview were all rated as being far less important. It’s easy to see why—demonstrating interest helps the college just as much as it helps you—it’s a win-win.

For more on how to demonstrate interest and gain an admissions edge, check out our YouTube tutorial on the subject.

4. Applications up, acceptance rates down

You will continue to see headlines in 2018 about infinitesimal acceptance rates at the most prestigious schools in the country. The Ivies, Stanford, the University of Chicago, and MIT will all sport single-digit acceptance rates. Other elite schools like Pomona, Pitzer, Amherst, Duke, Johns Hopkins, and Rice will all inch closer to the single-digit club as well.

The overall number of college applicants is expected to increase this admissions cycle, and the trend of seniors applying to more and more colleges is unlikely to fade. At last count, 35% of college applicants applied to seven or more schools. It’s not uncommon for superstar students to apply to 20 or more schools in a misguided attempt to hedge their bets. Bates, Rice, USC, and UPenn are just a few of the institutions already reporting a record number of applicants in 2018.

5. Racial policies remain in flux

A new lawsuit against Harvard University over their capping of accepting Asian students will be heard in District Court this summer. In 2016, the Fisher vs. University of Texas at Austin Supreme Court case, a challenge by a white plaintive who claimed that she was discriminated against by affirmative action policies, was narrowly decided in favor of the university. Still, the U.S. Department of Justice has called for an investigation into the legality of race-based college admissions, in effect, questioning the legality of granting African American and Latino students any edge in the admissions process. With all of this racial drama swirling and nothing completely settled, the in-flux state of race in admissions cracks our list of top trends. Applicants (as well as all informed-citizens) should follow the developments on this topic as it unfolds throughout the year.