- Last year saw record high numbers of applications and record low acceptance rates at highly selective colleges and universities.
- There were fewer applications to highly selective schools this year, but there were still far more than in a typical pre-pandemic year.
- Acceptance rates stayed roughly the same as last year, at least in part due to over-enrollment of the class of 2025.
- The diversity of admitted students increased this year.
- Most schools have extended their test-optional policies, though there still seems to be an advantage to submitting strong standardized test scores.
If you’ve been following admissions trends, you know that last year was highly unusual. Most schools became test-optional, application numbers skyrocketed at highly selective colleges, and the corresponding admissions rates plummeted. This year’s cycle is starting to look a little more typical, with fewer test center closures and the ability to visit campuses in person. With most of the results of the early application rounds in, let’s look at how the numbers stack up compared to last year.
When we’re talking about early applications, we’re thinking of Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA), and Single Choice or Restrictive Early Action (SCEA/REA) — you can learn more about each of these application plans here. All of these plans allow you to submit an application and receive a decision earlier in the cycle; they vary in terms of where else you can apply, whether an acceptance is binding, and when the student has to make a decision about enrollment.
Last year saw record-breaking numbers of applications submitted at highly selective colleges and universities. Test-optional policies very likely played a role in that, as students with otherwise strong applications could apply without test scores that might have hurt their overall academic profile. As most schools continue to be test-optional (and many have again extended their test-optional policies), we continue to see significantly more applications than in a typical pre-pandemic year. But, for the most part, there were fewer applications to highly selective schools, including most of the Ivies, this year.
A few notable exceptions include Brown, Notre Dame, and Emory, which all had significant increases in their early applications compared to last year (11%, 25%, and 13% respectively).
Early acceptance rates were also lower than in pre-pandemic years but stayed roughly the same compared to last year. That may seem puzzling, given that overall applications decreased. Part of the explanation may lie in over-enrollment for the class of 2025. Many students chose to defer their enrollment early in the pandemic to start in the class of 2025. Combined with the difficulty of predicting how many students will accept an offer of admission, many top colleges saw over-enrollment and have chosen to accept fewer students this year.
Tulane may be an extreme example: the class of 2025 saw a 25% increase in class size as more students chose to accept admission than in a typical year. As a result, Tulane has stated they will admit 1,650 fewer Early Action applicants this year, significantly dropping their acceptance rate.
While most early acceptance rates stayed the same or rose slightly compared to last year, there are a few other notable exceptions: Boston College, Johns Hopkins, Northeastern, Williams, and Notre Dame all saw significant decreases in early admissions this year. In brighter news, Duke’s early admissions rate rose by nearly 5%!
One important positive trend to come out of these pandemic admissions cycles is an increase in the diversity of admitted students at highly selective colleges. The number of acceptances is up across a number of underrepresented groups, including students of color, students with low-income backgrounds, first-generation, and international students. Here are a few noteworthy statistics about early admitted students:
51% are students of color and 17% are first-generation college students.
40% are students of color, 17% are first-generation college students, and 14% are international students.
54% are students of color, 12% are first-generation college students (though, this is down from 16.7% last year), and 12.6% are international students.
40% are students of color, 11% are first-generation college students, and 12% are international students.
52% are students of color, 14% are first-generation college students, and 12% are international students.
46% are students of color (a 70% increase in the last 5 years!).
A majority of U.S. colleges and universities were test-optional for the class of 2026 (nearly 80%). However, as students faced fewer test center closures, there was a slight increase overall from last year in applicants submitting test scores (55% compared to 50%).
Many schools have extended their test-optional policies, notably Harvard (which is test-optional through 2026) and the University of California system (which is test-blind through at least 2025).
Georgetown continues to be a conspicuous holdout, as one of very few selective colleges that has required standardized test scores throughout the pandemic.
Though there is limited data available comparing students admitted with and without test scores, it does seem that there is an advantage to sending strong scores. At Notre Dame, for example, only 30% of early admitted students applied without test scores.
Early vs. Regular
One trend that seems to be holding steady is that the rates of admission are significantly higher for Early Decision and Early Action than for Regular Decision. We won’t have that data for the class of 2026 for a few months yet, but it makes sense to expect that this will continue. Colleges tend to admit more students during early admission rounds because it helps them predict their yield (how many of their admitted students will ultimately enroll). Students who apply Early Decision are guaranteed to enroll, while students who apply Early Action typically consider the school a top choice and are more likely to attend.
If you’re a high school senior going through the college application process, all this data can be overwhelming — but try not to let it be discouraging! College admissions is about so much more than the numbers. Here are a few pieces of advice for those of you still in the midst of applying to college:
If you were admitted under an early application plan, congratulations!
If you were denied, shift your enthusiasm to your Regular Decision schools. Every school was on your list for a reason, and most students have a great time in college wherever they end up!