Good news on the university application front

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An initial report points to a substantial increase in the number of students applying to university for the upcoming academic year (2023-24). The new data comes from a report just released by the Common Application, regarding next year’s applications for four-year institutions received through November 1, 2022.

To that date, 748,118 different freshman applicants had applied to 841 colleges participating in the Common App. That number represents a 26% increase from 2019-2020 (592,471 applicants), the last year in which applications were unaffected by the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s also an increase of nearly 72,000 applicants from last year at this time.

Numbers are limited to the 841 institutions that were Common App members during the overall comparison period, which goes back to 2019-20. Because the pandemic impacted college applications so heavily in the two most recent admissions cycles, the Common App report included comparisons not only with last year, but also with the more typical 2019-2020 admissions cycle. (While not all colleges and universities participate in the Common App, it remains the most comprehensive source of college application information available today.)

Through that same date of November 1, the total number of applications (which includes the multiple applications of most students) has increased by 41% from 2,030,120 in 2019-2020 to 2,853,554 in 2022-23. Applicants enrolled on average in more schools affiliated with Common App (3.8) in 2022-2023 than in 2019-2020 (3.4), an increase of 12%.

Characteristics of the applicant

The number of underrepresented minority applicants increased 32% during the period 2019-2020, while the number of first-generation applicants to college increased 43%, more than twice the number of through-generation applicants during the same period. In addition, the number of students who claimed to be eligible for a common app fee waiver increased by nearly three times the number of students who did not claim to be eligible for a fee waiver (54% vs. 16%).

As usual, students applying to college early in the admissions cycle tended to come from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. About 61% of domestic applicants currently live in the most affluent 20% of zip codes nationwide, compared to just five percent of the bottom quintile.

The number of individual international applicants is more than three times higher than the number of domestic applicants since 2019-2020 (63% vs. 20%). China, India, Nigeria, Ghana and Canada were the leading countries for international applicants.

institutional features

Enrollments at public colleges and universities increased more sharply compared to 2019-20 (+44%) than enrollments at private members (+28%).

Applications from the most selective members (admission rates below 25%) grew at the highest rate since 2019-2020 (+45%), but applications from less selective members (admission rates 75% and above) also grew at a good clip (38%) . According to the report, “the vast majority of applications were submitted to less selective member institutions (with admission rates at or above 50%).”

Reporting of test scores

Of applicants through November 1, less than half (48%) reported a standardized admissions test score in their application. That compares to test score reporting rates of 78% in 2019-20, 45% in 2020-21 and 51% in 2021-22.

As in previous years, underrepresented minority applicants, first-generation applicants, and fee waiver applicants were less likely than their peers to include standardized test scores in their applications (39%, 35%, and 35%, respectively). Women took test scores less often than men, by a margin of 43% to 53%.

Regional and state differences

Overall, much of the United States saw increases in applications. South Carolina experienced the largest growth at 91% in 2019-2020, followed by Texas at 74% and Alabama at 64%. South Dakota experienced the largest decline (-25%), while Utah, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine saw smaller declines (-9, -4%, -7% and -3%, respectively).

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This first wave of Common App data does not guarantee that final, overall application numbers will increase for next year, but the timing is important nonetheless because the data includes applications submitted for early action and early decision deadlines, which are used by many private four-year colleges and universities. On the other hand, the data does not include applications for community colleges, which have experienced the largest enrollment losses during the pandemic. And it remains to be seen whether college applications will be picked up by students from less affluent backgrounds.

The Common App indicated it planned to release monthly updates on college applications through March 2023, along with a final report in August.

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