Skip to main content

Looking Back at the 2023 College Admissions Cycle

female student looking at phone and celebrating
Elizabeth Heaton

Written by Elizabeth Heatonon July 6th, 2023

I began my admissions career at the University of Pennsylvania, where I chaired university selection committees, evaluated potential athletic recruits as one of the school's athletics liaisons, and oversaw the university's portfolio of admissions publications. I also served as second chair in the selection committee for the school's flagship interdisciplinary Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology. A frequent contributor to USA TODAY and The Huffington Post and a graduate of Cornell University, I bring exceptional skills to the craft of essay writing paired with experience reading and evaluating thousands of admissions essays. I can offer expert advice on a wide range of college admissions topics, from colleges' expectations for high school curriculum choices and standardized test scores to choosing the right extracurricular activities and essay topics. Prior to joining the University of Pennsylvania, I worked as a public relations professional and served for a decade as a member of the Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network.
Learn More About Elizabeth
by Elizabeth Heaton, former admissions officer at University of Pennsylvania While we’ve seen quite a bit of change in admissions since 2019, we seem to have settled a bit in 2023. In other words, not much has shifted from the trends we saw last year—early decision (ED) remains king, followed closely by early action (EA) and priority admissions deadlines. No school that admits fewer than 50 percent of its applicants is a safety for any student, and ultra-selectivity is here to stay. Read our post, Lessons from the 2022 College Application Cycle, for more of these trends. One thing that has changed: the number of students applying to college and the number of colleges they’re applying to continues to increase. According to Inside Higher Ed, through March 1, 2023, 1,244,476 distinct first-year applicants applied to 841 returning members of the Common App. That’s an increase of 21 percent from the last pre-pandemic 2019–2020 cycle, when 1,028,422 distinct first-year applicants filed applications. Total application volume rose 30 percent, from 5,434,484 in 2019-2020 to 7,057,980 in 2022-2023. Each applicant also submitted 8 percent more applications to member institutions in 2022–2023 than in 2019–2020. So what does that mean for students applying in the 2023-2024 cycle? The admissions process begins now! Most schools will have early deadlines, and the days when you could wait to apply in regular decision are pretty much over if you’re shooting for a selective school that admits fewer students than they turn away. EA, ED, and priority deadlines can start as early as October 15, and you’ll want to get any applications to rolling admissions colleges in by mid-October as well. You should be putting the final touches on activity lists, polishing essay drafts, and completing applications in early fall so that you’re ready to press submit the following month. Strategy is essential. It used to be that students could shoot for the most selective level in EA or ED, and then have a reasonably decent opportunity in ED2 (a second round of ED that usually has a winter deadline) at the very next level of selectivity. But with more schools filling more of their classes in the first round of ED, that next tier of selectivity has fewer spots available in their second round. We’ve always advised using the strategic advantage of ED at an institution where you already are a strong candidate, and that’s never been more important. Organization is key. Gone are the days of one or two deadlines for all admissions and financial aid materials. Some colleges will offer ED, ED2, EA, and RD. Others may have different deadlines for in-state applicants versus out-of-state. Merit scholarship eligibility may rest on getting applications in by an earlier deadline than everyone else, as can getting an alumni interview, or making the cut for a special program. You MUST pay attention to deadlines and make sure that you are hitting them for each school on your list. Testing is a personal decision. The trend in test optional admissions policies is holding steady, which makes testing less of a must-do and more of a “do if it works for you.” While many students will take a test or two to see where their scores net out, it’s common to withhold results that don’t stack up well against a college’s average scores. Some students won’t test at all, which is also a fine choice. Obviously if there are schools on your list that require testing, you’ll need to spend some time prepping for and taking the ACT or SAT, and some test-optional schools will require testing for merit aid. We do encourage those applying to larger state schools to test whether the colleges are requiring it or not—the larger number of students in their applicant pools and their limited ability to do a deep dive on each file means those with stronger scores may have an advantage. But since you create your own list of colleges, it truly is possible for you—and not the colleges—to make this decision for yourself. Fewer applications equals greater success. While the Common App and Inside Higher Ed numbers indicate that more students are applying to more colleges, we encourage bucking that trend with a shorter, more balanced list. Decreasing the number of applications allows you to engage with the schools on your list and craft the best application possible for each school. One final note: there are those who might advise students to do things they think will make them more competitive. These can range from applying to a less popular major that is of no actual interest to the student, to doing research just to say that they’ve done research, to fully outsourcing the essay writing. But here’s the thing: there are plenty of competitive students in highly selective applicant pools, and most of them don’t get in. Those students who are authentic to their true selves—by pursuing their actual interests outside the classroom, selecting majors according to what they really want to study, and writing essays that capture that true self—will always present the most compelling and complete applications. And it’s the students who are both competitive and compelling who are accepted.

When is the right time to get started? How can you keep my child on track? Get all the answers to your most pressing questions.


Interested in learning more about how our college admissions counseling services can help your student succeed?

Call 877-402-6224 or complete the form for information on getting your student started with one of our experts.

Inclusion Matters Here Pride Flag