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College Admission Trends for the Class of 2026

Every January we look back over the last year’s college application season to review our student’s results and plan for the future. While a strong college application will never go out of style, we see some trends emerging as Covid continues to have an impact on the college admissions process.

1. Most colleges were test-optional this year and have pledged to remain test optional next year and beyond.

Over 65% of colleges remained test optional in the fall of 2021. While this may seem like a break for applicants, test-optional policies have allowed colleges to boost exclusivity of their programs because more students are applying and as a result acceptance rates have gone down.

Further, with the absence of test scores for large numbers of applicants the evaluative weight has shifted to other parts of the application. While grades and academic rigor continue to drive the evaluation process, the applicants essay(s), resume, recommendations and AP test scores are given more weight in the application process.

It is important to note that at large state universities that offer automatic merit awards based on an applicant's GPA and test scores may not guarantee those awards if the student is test-optional. So, it is imperative that you understand the test-optional policy of each university as it relates to evaluation of your application, merit awards and Honors College consideration.

2. Demonstrated Interest may be more important than ever.

Demonstrated interest tells the college how eager you are to attend. However, demonstrated interest also allows the college to predict its possible yield, the percentage of students who will accept their offer of admissions. We sometimes forget that colleges are not just institutions of higher learning but businesses. A higher yield may help a college to improve their ranking which is good for business.

Applicants can demonstrate their interest by visiting, applying early, stating it in the essay, and having positive communication with admissions.

3. Applications continue to surge.

Over the last two years admission offices reported record numbers of applicants with over 40% increases at some colleges. This past fall southern schools saw a sharp rise in applications at a 22% increase. The test-optional policies at Ivy League and Top 20 schools have led to student’s “taking a shot” at their dream school. However, more applications does not mean more students will be admitted with acceptance rates at the top universities in the country reaching all time lows.

Early Action and Early Decision applicant pools continue to increase and may be a critical strategy for applicants. Colleges continue to use the early round applicant pool to meet their goals for diversity, equity, and inclusion such as Brown which admitted 896 applicants in the Early Decision round, 51% of those admitted identified as students of color and 17% will be the first in their family to attend college.

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