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Navigating the New Norm: Understanding the Subtle Changes in College Admissions for 2023-24

As the 2023-24 admissions cycle progresses and the news and noise related to changes in Affirmative Action quiets down a bit, we have received a number of questions about some more subtle changes in admissions that we believe may be longer lasting.

There is no shortage of articles discussing well-known admissions trends such as the increasing competition for seats at selective schools, the increasing role of early decision in admissions, and standardized testing changes - but there are some subtler changes that we think are worth highlighting.

In our September 10th post on admissions changes, we stressed the idea that the vast majority of schools would continue to value and pursue diversity after the SCOTUS decision on Affirmative Action, and that approaches to this through new techniques would result in more ‘surprises’ in the admissions process. Through the fall, this dynamic became clearer as schools broadly increased their efforts to recruit diverse student bodies - as seen in Pomona College's increased direct student outreach and Claremont McKenna's targeting of guidance counselors from select communities. After the SCOTUS decision, focus on diversity has increased at many schools, and their pursuit of new ways to attain it will continue to change the admissions process, potentially impacting more traditional paths to success encouraged by admissions offices.

Whether the result of holistic admissions, Affirmative Action, or ‘culture wars’, colleges are also spending more time getting to ‘know’ their applicants. This trend can be seen in the new and additional essays required at many schools (Sarah Lawrence, Columbia, Stanford, NYU, Johns Hopkins, and Emory to name a few), the introduction of student videos at schools like Bowdoin College, as well as in the growing number of colleges that stress direct communications through interactions with regional representatives.

Another potential trend we are seeing is the changing usage of the transfer student channel at many colleges. In recent years, the transfer channel has been used by some as a way to position weaker candidates at highly selective schools. It is our impression that an increasing number of schools now see the channel more exclusively as a path for high performing minority students from community colleges to gain admissions. As schools struggle to find new ways to pursue diversity, we increasingly believe more will follow this path (which is the path California schools took many years ago when Affirmative Action was eliminated in their state), changing the nature of the transfer channel. This change will potentially eliminate a path some have been taking [exploiting] to gain entrance to elite institutions.

The direct admissions path, most recently undertaken by parts of the Wisconsin and Georgia state systems, is another trend we are watching that could impact in state/out of state admissions dynamics as well as diversity at many schools.

Finally, we are very interested in the recent activity around student personality and ‘character’ in the admissions process. The acquisition of the work done by the ‘Character Collaborative’, a nonprofit focused on encouraging the use of character attributes in the admissions process by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), an industry group representing 26,000 members from colleges, Universities and Secondary Schools, could lead to the increasing importance of specific character traits in the admissions process. With universities like Chicago, Penn, and Cornell as well as top liberal arts colleges such as Pomona, Bowdoin, and Swarthmore already members of the ‘Character Collaborative” it seems to us that making student personality a more important part of the admissions process has a number of influential advocates. A move to more character-based admissions would seem likely to increase the importance of regional representatives and intelligent outreach in the admissions process. It would also require students to have a better understanding of the specific attributes individual colleges value as opposed to more general traits.

Pulling it all together, we believe there will be more changes in admissions than most would anticipate. For those that want to discuss them and learn more about how to best position their student, we are always available.


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