College Admissions Trends 2024: What Families Need to Know

College Admissions Has Changed: What Parents Need to Know Regarding the Latest Application Trends

Written by Jason

It is simple: I envisioned Campus to Career Crossroads helping students have successful outcomes, dreamed up by the students themselves. Our mission at Campus to Career Crossroads is to develop a supportive and individualized partnership with you and your family to help you navigate the complex stages from high school and throughout your career. Let's work together!

Last updated May 30, 2024 | Published on May 30, 2024

Why is it so hard to get into selective schools today, and why are the costs so high? Parents constantly say to us, “It was not like this when I went to school!”

They are not wrong — things have changed tremendously. All parents hope that their children will have a college experience that exceeds what they had — if they can get admitted. But there are more issues plaguing students and parents beyond just admission struggles.

Let’s go over the college admissions trends in 2024 we have noted in our long history of experience working with families. Not only will we provide you with the challenging trends facing many families, we will also provide you with a solution for each hurdle you might face. 

Let’s dive in.

Key Takeaway

College admissions trends reflect a shift toward specialization over well-roundedness, with a focus on fewer (but more meaningful) extracurricular activities. Application numbers continue to soar, prompting colleges to use AI for reviews. Direct admissions programs aim to ease access, but costs remain a concern for families like yours.

What Are College Admissions Trends?

What are college admissions trends, anyway? 

They are changes we see, and every year, there might be slight changes or they might be significant changes. We even created our top five admissions trends that you need to know right now.

Here is a great example: At the start of the college planning process, we always review a high school student’s activities and mention connecting career interests with a more focused approach to showcasing growth in a few select areas. 

So often, parents respond, “Do we have to show how well-rounded they are?” (The mindset of being a well-rounded student was drilled into many parents’ heads during their own high school days.)

College Admissions Trends in 2024 Require a New Mindset

That quickly turns into the parent rattling off random activities, usually focused on volunteering: “But wait, they helped out with the fish fry last year,” or “They helped give out food to the homeless with their youth group.” 

We explain that a student does not need to have a plethora of non-related activities. 

Do not get me wrong, it is great to give back, but was it done in earnest or simply because the parent thought it would look good on college applications? Not to mention, admissions officers can tell when students pad their applications with numerous unrelated activities. 

How Have College Admissions Trends Changed in 2024?

Believe it or not, trends have changed since 2023. The largest trend we have seen over time is the number of college applications students have submitted during each admissions cycle. We have talked to a number of admissions counselors and directors of admission, and they have all mentioned the record-breaking applications they receive during each cycle.

That also affects how much time college admissions officers spend reviewing each application. In fact, highly competitive colleges spend eight minutes or less reviewing each application! As a result, it is more important than ever to create an application that stands out (again, that showcases the importance of being a specialist) and aim to carefully craft your application with this goal in mind.

If you need help navigating the process ahead of you, contact Campus to Career Crossroads to understand every step of the journey.

How Admissions Trends Can Impact You

How might college admissions trends in 2024 impact your family? It is an important question to ask, because admissions trends can impact your child’s ability to attend the college that fits them, find the right fit school, and affect the amount they will pay. Let’s explore.

Impact 1: They can influence college selection.

Admissions trends can impact the colleges your child selects, considers, and ultimately attends. It is important to make the choices which best align your child’s profile, impacting educational opportunities, and future career choices.

Impact 2: They affect your family’s financial planning for college.

Rising application numbers and costs can affect your family’s financial planning for college. Potential changes in financial aid (including FAFSA changes) may impact the amount you pay for college, causing you to make certain adjustments in the schools you choose to consider from the get-go.

Impact 3: They might make you more confused about the complexities of college admissions.

College Admissions Trends 2024 - It Gets Harder Every Year

And, honestly, they might impact you emotionally. Think about what they are asking you to do — navigate admissions processes, adapt to evolving circumstances, and secure acceptance to desired institutions. People typically do not have the skillset to navigate all of these things on their own, and it can create an emotional strain on you and your student. 

Nobody handles rejections or waitlists easily, and without guidance, it can be difficult to make crucial decisions amid changes and uncertainty.

Trends to Know: Eight College Admissions Trends in 2024

Let’s take a look at eight college admissions trends in 2024 that you might encounter as you move forward in this year’s application cycle and process.

Trend 1: Application Inflation Will Continue

We want our clients to have the goal of reach schools, but we also need to ensure that they have a balanced list of colleges, including just as many target and safety colleges as reach colleges. The application inflation frenzy is one of the biggest college admissions trends in 2024.

Since many parents applied to college twenty-plus years ago, what worked for applications then has significantly changed. The way applications are read and evaluated now, especially for selective schools, is completely different and this is sometimes hard for parents to understand. Back then, when our current parents were in high school, they were encouraged to join every club imaginable because they wanted to be considered “involved” or a “team player” in high school activities.  

Now, students are discouraged from having too many random activities occurring. Why? Because they cannot make a significant impact when they do too many activities. Here is the difference: Colleges are not looking for a well-rounded student. They want to build a well-rounded class. Think of this in terms of a business or company — you want people who contribute different thoughts and ideas and have different areas of expertise.  

College Admissions Trends 2024 - It is More Than Being a Well Rounded Applicant

Instead, colleges want a “specialist.” They want to see that a student has spent a significant time honing their craft or making a meaningful impact and want to see that a student has invested time in a few key areas they are passionate about and have continued growing their knowledge or skill through studying, research, job shadowing, or repetition (practice time to become an expert).  

But if you think about it, this is actually better for today’s students, as this approach means that they do not have to do everything or waste time on activities that are not important to them.

What You Can Do

Discuss a common theme for your child’s extracurriculars and related career activities.  

Everyone’s story is unique, and your child needs to tell theirs in the form of an application. Below are some examples of activities that tie in with a theme. As a parent, you can help them seek opportunities — give them ideas or talk to friends and family members that may be able to provide job shadowing or insight to certain careers.

Here’s an example of a “specialist” mindset for a student interested in a business-related major:

  • Overall career theme: Business
  • Related activities: Joining clubs (or starting one at your school) like DECA, FBLA, investment club, entrepreneur club, or economics club
  • Additional activities (going the extra mile): Organizing a financial literacy event at your school, job shadowing a corporate employee, creating your own business, working a part-time job, or researching trends in the business world
  • Related volunteering (going even further than the extra mile): Teaching a simple economics lesson at your elementary or middle school or donating time to a non-profit organization or fundraising event.

Now you can start to see how these activities weave together and tell a story. While they are all different types of activities, they complement the same theme and your student now looks like a “specialist.”

Always Tell Your Unique Story When Completing College Applications

Year after year, we see record-breaking numbers of applications for colleges and universities. The freshman class sizes at most colleges are the same today as they were in the 1990’s, but back then, schools only received a fraction of the applications (again, this was also back when most students only applied to about one to three schools) that they do today.  

Why? 

Each school had their own institutional application and it was completed on a paper form! Now, it is easier than ever to apply to dozens of schools with a simple “click” once their general information is complete, thanks to the Common App or Coalition App.  

When the Common App started in the 1970’s, there were only fifteen member colleges. Now, more than 1,000 universities use this application, and more continue to be added every year. 

Another factor to increasing applications is the amount of access students have to college information. Nowadays, it is easy to research colleges online. Even if you cannot travel across the country to visit a college campus, you can take a virtual tour through a school’s website or on a platform like Appily to get a feel for what attending college there would be like. 

In a few minutes, you can take tours of not only the campus and buildings, but specific dorm halls/rooms. Admissions offices now offer virtual sessions where students and parents can ask questions and continue to learn more about school and it is easier than ever to connect with current college students to ask about their college experience.

Trend 2: AI-Driven Application Review Will Increase

Fifty percent of admissions offices currently use AI in their review process, according to an Intelligent survey, an online education magazine aimed at prospective college applicants. A whopping 80% said they plan to incorporate it sometime in 2024. 

They even said that AI often makes the final decision on a student’s admission, though it might mean taking care of the stacks of applications down to a more manageable number, but those are usually easy-to-make decisions.

What You Can Do

Let our team help you identify which keywords certain selective colleges trained AI to highlight in recommendation letters or essays. Incredibly, niche extracurriculars will prompt AI to flag an application for a second look! (It is amazing!)

Trend 3: Highly Selective Majors Will Grow

As certain fields become increasingly important, highly selective majors become stronger as well. Here is the deal: Program capacity has heightened competition, with admission rates often lower than overall acceptance rates published by colleges. 

Can you make a list of these on your own? 

Of course you can. You know that programs like computer science, engineering, and healthcare continue to see increasing demand and accommodate larger applicant pools.

What You Can Do

Aspiring students should consider a broader range of institutions and continue to excel academically and in extracurricular activities to enhance their chances in these competitive fields.

Trend 4: Test Score Submission Will Decline

Beyond the ease of applying and access to college information, many schools decided to go test-optional following the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant students were no longer limited by their SAT and ACT scores. 

Therefore, this led to increased applications to schools that were previously considered completely “out of reach.” This test optional trend, coupled with the over-inflated 4.0 unweighted GPA, means being perfect is no longer a “standout” trait.  

Many colleges now want to see more of a “holistic review” of a student’s application, especially if they are applying test-optional. This means a college admission officer will look at all aspects of the application beyond grades and test scores, but that also means these specific areas become even more important: 

  • Activities
  • Essays
  • Letters of recommendation

What You Can Do

Work with our team at Campus to Career Crossroads to ensure you have the right combination of everything on your list — activities, essays, and letters of recommendation are just the tip of the iceberg. Everything must be perfectly aligned to ensure you have the right “balance.” Do not leave this to chance. Ensure you work with Campus to Career Crossroads. 

Trend 5: Direct Admissions Will Gain Traction

Some programs currently help high school seniors in various states by directly notifying them of automatic acceptance to multiple in-state colleges, even before they apply. This initiative has expanded over the years, offering physical letters and online enhancements during the pandemic. Such direct admissions initiatives aim to boost college engagement and accessibility, eliminating barriers for students, regardless of their academic background.

College Admissions Trends 2024 - More Guaranteed Admissions In-State Programs

For example, Idaho, Washington, Hawaii, and Minnesota programs help high school seniors by notifying them of six or more in-state schools to which they have been automatically accepted before they even apply.

What You Can Do

As a parent of a high school student, you may view these direct admissions programs positively, knowing your child can have automatic acceptance to multiple in-state colleges. Encourage your child to explore these opportunities and take advantage of any support offered by the program and understand the specific details of the program in your state to ensure that your child makes informed decisions about their college options. These direct admissions initiatives are valuable resources to help your child navigate the path in front of them.

Trend 6: FAFSA Delays May Continue

School counselors and admission professionals have dealt with a series of unforeseen challenges with the FAFSA this year, including periods of being locked out, delays, and students still have not received their financial aid awards from schools due to all of the delays, much later than the typical admissions cycle. 

We do not know how the new FAFSA will play out for the rest of the year, or if it will even be ready for seniors this fall. It has truly been a roller coaster ride this past year, and it might not get any better. Time will tell, and it might be another crazy scenario.

What You Can Do

The most important thing you can do is to have conversations with your child about the costs of college and prepare for what the costs might be. If you are not expecting to receive a lot of money through the FAFSA, anticipate that and explore how you will handle the costs. We can help you do that with our extensive financial aid and financial planning worksheets that we offer.

Trend 7: Colleges Skip Over Legacy Preferences

Is your child interested in your alma mater? 

It is possible they may have to consider getting rid of the practice of legacy preferences, because more states have considered legislation to ban the practice. For example, California is considering a bill that would prohibit private universities from receiving funding through the Cal Grant program if applicants who have donor or alumni connections receive preferential treatment. 

What You Can Do

Ensure that your child’s application meets all the standards for admission in every other way! Your child can qualify for admission in more ways than one — their legacy status should not be the only reason they get into a college. They must also have a comprehensive admission strategy, including just a few “reach” schools and assess which schools they would be excited about attending. We can help your family decide.

Trend 8: Costs Will Not Go Down

Well, it is not really a new trend, but it is still a trend that has been happening for some time: College costs have not gone down. 

Cost of College

Between 1980 (when college was a fraction of the price of what it is today) and 2020, the average price of tuition, fees, and room and board for an undergraduate degree increased 169%, according to a recent report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Currently, the average yearly public four-year, in-state cost is $27,940, while the average yearly private nonprofit four-year cost is $57,570. 

With the current environment of some highly selective schools nearing the six-figure yearly cost of attendance, it is extremely important to have family conversations with your child about what your family can afford in advance of applying. 

What You Can Do

The last thing that you want to happen is have a child that applies and gets accepted to their dream school, only to determine later that the family cannot afford the school because they did not estimate costs.  

The other thing you need to keep in mind: You cannot rely on scholarships to help, especially the more selective a school is. School-based scholarships at these institutions are rare and the gift is simply getting admitted. You should always be prepared to pay the full cost of attendance.  

Do your research and find out if the school offers automatic freshman merit aid if your child falls in line with certain criteria. A simple search for the phrase “automatic freshman merit aid” along with the school’s name, should help you locate this information easily if available. As an example, the University of Alabama does a great job of being transparent with this information. They provide a chart so you can clearly see where a student needs to fall academically to receive a scholarship.

The cost of attendance is more than just tuition, especially if your child is attending school beyond a drivable distance and you have to manage travel. The cost of attendance includes both direct and indirect costs: tuition, fees, housing, meal plans, textbooks. Additionally, it can include sports passes, health insurance, transportation, dorm furnishings, and monthly personal living expenses.

Do not forget about the cost of the college application process — it is expensive, too! The average cost for a college application is $50, and some schools charge nearly $100 to apply. When applying to multiple colleges, those costs can add up quickly.

Let Us Walk You Through College Admissions Trends

The path forward can be daunting alone, and you need a proven partner on the road to college. Knowing the college admissions trends 2024 can help you decide the right path for your child, but it also might make things more confusing.

Let Campus to Career Crossroads help you. We will walk you through our proven process, one step at a time, so you are not overwhelmed by the process, either. 

FAQs

Still have questions about the college admissions trends in 2024? Read through a few of our frequently asked questions to get your answers.

Are college applications down in 2024?

No, college applications will not be down in 2024, because students continue to apply to an ever-increasing number of schools. Watch for college applications to continue going up over this admission cycle and for the foreseeable future.

When should I start applying for college 2024?

You can start applying for college when applications open for each particular college and based on their admission cycle – generally around August 1st each year. Each school has detailed information about when to apply on their admission websites. 

Will it be easier to get into college in 2024?

Because of the number of colleges that students apply to in 2024, it is not likely to get any easier to get accepted. Be prepared to strategically plan your admission materials and apply only after you have the right strategy in place. Campus to Career Crossroads can help you identify the right colleges for your situation.

 

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