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4 College Admission Trends to Watch in 2022

High school graduation caps tossed in the air

By Matt Musico

Will you get into college in 2022? Here are four trends that might affect your college admissions experience in the coming year.

There is a common misconception out there that students with great grades and test scores will automatically earn acceptances to highly selective colleges. Working hard and earning high grades and test scores is certainly better than the alternative, but admissions – especially at the most selective colleges – is about much more than just the numbers.

That’s been the case in college admissions for several years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put these conversations in the spotlight. Understanding how the landscape of admissions continues to shift is a great way to manage expectations throughout the process. Here are four trends to keep an eye on in 2022.

1. Test Optional Movement Continues

Test optional, test blind and test flexible all have different meanings, but at their core, they all mean one thing: students don’t need to submit their SAT/ACT score for admission. According to Fairtest.org, there were 1,070 colleges and universities who didn’t require an SAT or ACT test prior to the global pandemic.

Once the presence of COVID-19 changed just about everything in life, virtually all higher education institutions began waving the testing requirement to eliminate a potential barrier to students applying. For the high school graduating Class of 2022, Fairtest is reporting that 1,815 colleges and universities are either test optional or test blind, which is the highest it’s ever been.

But what about the Class of 2023? Don’t worry – the test optional movement isn’t dying down just yet. At least 1,400 institutions have already indicated that tests won’t be required as part of the application process. The only variable left in this equation is those final 400+ institutions that haven’t yet announced their testing policies for next year.

Those announcements will likely come one-by-one throughout the late winter and early spring of 2022. A recent example is the University of Wisconsin, which announced in December 2021 that they’re extending their test-optional policy through at least the spring 2025 term.

2. Top Colleges Will Keep Seeing a Record Number of Applications

As admissions offices dropped the testing requirement with hopes their application numbers wouldn’t drop, the opposite happened. Many colleges and universities – especially highly selective institutions – have seen a record number of applications get submitted.

While application numbers dropped significantly for smaller schools – especially for those that aren’t well known – top schools in the country thrived. Ivy League colleges saw application numbers rise from the year before, and that is expected to continue. These types of increases aren’t just for highly selective schools, though, and Auburn University is the perfect example of that. As of December 2021, the Auburn admissions office had received more than 40,000 applications to review from the Class of 2022 – an all-time high. This marked a 68.5% increase in applications from the year before, and a stunning 155% increase from two years ago.

If schools continue to not require SAT/ACT tests, these types of trends will continue. This policy allows a student with a great GPA and rigorous curriculum who isn’t a great test taker to “take a shot” at their dream school. That’s awesome, but the downside of these application increases is colleges must get more selective than before because there are only so many spots available each fall for their incoming freshman class. With the need to get more selective, admissions offices must look beyond academics to differentiate applicants from one another, which brings us to our next trend.

3. “Human” Part of Applications Becomes Increasingly More Important

The admissions process involves more than just GPA, the rigor of a student’s curriculum, and test scores (if they’re submitted). In addition to making sure you’re an academic fit for the school you’ve applied to, admissions offices are also trying to decide if you’ll fit in on campus in other ways.

This is where the “human” part of applications come into play. The “paper” part is all the stuff you can’t change once the time comes to apply. This includes your transcript, test scores, and educational background. There are only a couple of spots where you can show your personality in an application, and that resides in your activity list and personal statement.

Colleges are interested in seeing how you spend your time outside of the classroom because it’s a way for them to not only find out what you’re passionate about, but also to see if there are activities on their campus that you’d be interested in joining. As for your personal statement, telling a story about yourself gives them an idea as to how you could fit on campus from a social aspect. Instead of just getting the facts about you – what your GPA/test scores are, where you’re from, what high school you attend, etc. – they get a chance to learn about the person behind all those qualifications and how he or she will contribute to the campus.

To learn more about you and your motivations for applying, some institutions also have a school-specific supplemental short essay for you to complete. One of the most common short essay prompts asked by colleges and universities are “Why do you want to attend [insert school here]?” Attending college is a big commitment, and this question serves as a way for admissions offices to see how serious you are about them.

In response to the test optional movement mentioned above, some schools that didn’t have a short answer to complete in their application in the past, but added at least one to get to know students better. Some colleges that have done this include the University of Miami and Fordham University. There are other colleges that only require extra short answers for students who apply test optional, like Bryant University.

4. Yield Protection Becomes More Common

Historically, applying to college via Early Action offers several advantages. Doing so allows you to demonstrate legitimate interest in a school, and you’d get the benefit of receiving a decision in December, January, or February instead of waiting until March or April. There’s also been this thought that applying via Early Action is less competitive than Regular Decision, so the chances of gaining admission are better.

With such a tremendous surge in applications, colleges must find a way to hedge their bets. That’s come in the form of deferring more students from Early Action to the Regular Decision pool, which is a practice that’s called “yield protection” within the admissions world.

Yield protection is a practice in which an institution will not accept a highly qualified student outright because there’s a feeling they’ll be accepted by and eventually enroll in a more prestigious school. So, while it’ll be a head-scratching moment for a high-achieving student to get deferred by a target or likely school on their list, it’s probably a case of that college trying to protect their yield, which is the percentage of students accepted who decide to enroll at a particular school.

COVID-19 has created uncertainty in all aspects of life. College admissions is very much a part of that, for both families and higher education institutions. As we can see, these trends are related to one another, with the big first domino to fall being schools dropping the SAT/ACT requirement. Being aware of these trends is helpful in managing expectations and building a balanced college list. Remember to take ownership of what you can control by asking yourself the right questions at the start of your college search, and stay organized throughout the process to complete and submit thoughtful applications in a timely manner.

When there are so many variables involved, the best thing you can do is focus on putting your best foot forward in each aspect of the experience.

Matt Musico, a current college counselor at Collegewise is a freelance writer for CollegeData. He has worked in higher education for the better part of a decade. Half of that time was spent working in an undergraduate admissions office, while the other half has involved working with high school families as a private college counselor.

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