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9 College Admission Trends to Watch in the New School Year

By collegemktgrp | July 28, 2022 | Universities

The COVID-19 pandemic changed nearly everything about how the collegiate world functions. Through 2020–2022, we’ve seen the tremendous shifts that have affected all areas of college admissions and campus life.

From test-optional admissions policies being adopted to fluctuating between in-person and online learning, both students and staff felt the significant ongoing impact of the pandemic.

As the pandemic continues to affect how students and families engage with schools, enrollment managers and admissions teams can expect the 2022–2023 school year to look different compared to the previous two years.

Staying on top of the ever-evolving admissions process will help your school see higher student enrollment and retention rates. From new testing policies to college students’ shifting values, here are the 9 most important college admission trends for 2022–2023.

1. Application Numbers are on the Rise

For many schools, the college admissions process has gotten more competitive. The number of applications submitted to schools rose just over 21% between the 2019–2020 and 2021–2022 school years.

A number of factors contribute to this upswing in applications, including recruitment efforts by schools, and the implementation of test-optional policies (more on this later). Students who might have felt discouraged from applying due to lower test scores may have more confidence now that they don’t have to report their ACT or SAT scores.

On the other hand, while application rates are high, there continues to be a college enrollment decline. For example, undergraduate enrollment dropped by more than 662,000 students compared to spring 2021.

This may be due to the fallout of the pandemic — many students and families within differing demographics faced extreme hardships, and college could be something that’s not in the cards for them at the moment.

One thing that can create more opportunities for these students is financial aid. And while this is a complicated area, be sure all options are readily available — students who are ready to consider college now will want to know what loans look like or if they’re eligible for grants or work-study programs.

Some of these students may also prefer online options. More schools are now offering remote classes at lower costs than in-person. Highlight the flexibility — in terms of time and money — your online program offers.

2. Diversity Policies Are a Top Priority

A diversified student population is a strong one — they bring a range of experiences, backgrounds, ethnicities, abilities, and perspectives to the classroom and campus.

Now more than ever, students are looking for diverse, inclusive, and equitable campuses to attend. Drawing in a varied population requires an ongoing and intentional effort. Here are a few ways to support your institution’s efforts to attract a diverse pool of applicants:

Collect User-Generated Content from Diverse Student Populations

As you consider how to encourage students of diverse ethnicities, races, sexual orientations, or abilities, pinpoint what clubs and student organizations are open to them.

Do you have students enrolled in college already who can speak about their experience on your campus? Ask them to share their experience on social media or ask if you can interview them for a blog post on everyday life on your campus.

You can do this by utilizing your TikTok page and sharing these videos across all other platforms your school is on. Appoint responsible students to oversee the creation of this content.

Make Enrollment Accessible to First-Gen Students

First-generation students face unique challenges when it comes to college enrollment, and may need extra support.

Within your state, make your school known to districts that historically have first-gen students. Have materials ready for counselors to give out to juniors, seniors, and their families as they’re doing research on their schooling options.

Lay out how you can support them through the application process and provide communication channels if they need extra resources or help in understanding the application.

Entice International Students

If you don’t already, draw students in from all over the country (and world) by telling them about your specific region. Let them know how beautiful the coast is, how picturesque your mountains are, or how exciting your city life is.

Share this information on your social media channels, on your school’s blog, or through email.

Once you’ve enticed them, you can then provide more information on how the application process works, how you can support them through it, and how they can assimilate into the community.

Connect with Adult Learners/Non-Traditional Students

Adult learners are important to think about, too. How can alumni of your school show these students the real-life success that awaits beyond your institution?

Social media is an excellent tool for reaching all these communities of prospective students. TikTok can give you access to a majority of the students you’re trying to encourage to enroll at your school.

How to revolutionize your enrollment strategy with TikTok >

3. Value is the Name of the Game for Students and Their Families

ROI is an important guiding metric when students are choosing where to apply to college (if at all). This became especially important over the last two admission cycles, with many college students considering online learning over in-person.

An increasing number of applicants may be drawn to schools that offer sizable financial aid offerings, work-study opportunities, and the option to graduate in three years instead of four. Proximity to home and academic reputation are also factors.

For many families — especially those who have first-generation students — tuition and financial aid options are a whole new world to navigate. Your school’s marketing department should take an active role in communicating important aspects of financial literacy to both current and incoming students.

Providing financial information resources, worksheets, and other materials will give them the details they need to make an informed and confident decision.

Why your school should help educate students on financial literacy >

4. Changes to Applications and Campuses for Trans and Non-Binary Students

Many colleges around the country have implemented policies in support of their trans and non-binary students. For example, schools are now offering gender-inclusive housing options and covering the costs of transition-related medical expenses under student health insurance.

Last year, the Common App announced changes to its applications to better serve this community of students. Applicants were given the option of sharing their preferred name and pronouns, as well as their legal sex (whether that’s different from birth or not).

For 2022–2023 there are additional changes. The term “legal” will be added to the first name question. In 2023–2024 the Common App will add “X” or “another legal sex” as an option next to “female” and “male.”

Any school using the Common App for their college enrollment process will have these questions featured. This is an easy step to take to show support and solidarity with students who fall into these college demographics.

Follow through by making sure that these types of questions are in all your school’s admissions-related materials and communications. So, for example, if a student walks into an admissions counselor’s office, that officer should know how the student prefers to be addressed since it’ll be in their file.

5. Test-Optional Colleges Are Becoming More Mainstream

In 2020, the number of schools shifting to test-optional admissions policies skyrocketed. As of 2021, over 65% of all United States institutions offering bachelor’s degrees are officially test-optional.

Both the pandemic and SAT and ACT cancellations are responsible for this acceleration. While many schools had temporary policies in place, those have now become permanent in many colleges.

Whether your school is test-optional or not, this information should be highly visible so students know how to prepare for their college applications. Include these details in your marketing materials and emails sent to prospective students.

If your school does require tests, offer them extra resources like study materials or tools for coping with test anxiety.

6. More Emphasis on Essays Instead of Standardized Tests

For years, experts have argued that standardized test scores are not accurate measurements of a student’s ability to achieve success in college. As more schools are becoming test-optional (or test-flexible or test-blind), essays and supplemental essays are playing a more important role in the admissions decision-making process.

Not only does the essay provide admissions teams with unique information about the student, but it gives them the opportunity to gauge their writing ability.

No matter where your institution’s priorities lay with admitting students — the type of essays you require, whether or not standardized tests are a part of the process, and so on — ensure it’s all communicated in your marketing materials. A checklist for students to work through as they work on their applications can be helpful.

7. More Gap Years and Less Transfers are Expected

Despite the COVID-19 vaccine being widely available, and many schools requiring vaccinations, many students are still opting for a gap year.

In 2021, 16% of students were reported to either definitely or likely take a gap year. With interrupted extracurriculars and the flip-flop from in-person to online learning, many students were discouraged from applying to college.

On-going COVID disruptions are expected to continue to impact the number of transfer students as well. Whether students are looking to transfer from a 2-year school to a 4-year school or were planning for a lateral transition between similar institutions, many students are likely to stay put. Economic hardship can also be a catalyst here, as transfers are not always a financially viable option.

If your school is back to offering on-campus activities, make sure you let prospective student populations know this as they’re applying. If a student requests more information about your school, include what’s in store for them as they go through the college application process — tours, meet and greets, special events, etc.

Transparency is the name of the game when trying to encourage students to transfer to your campus. Provide resources that give them a full understanding of how their request is being handled, what is offered at your school, how your programs may be an excellent fit for them, and what resources are in place to support their success as they come to your school.

8. Schools Will Work to Woo International Students

College admissions were severely impacted during the 2020–2021 school year due to travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Across the country, enrollment numbers fell 15%, with some schools seeing as high as a 43% drop.

International enrollment has bounced back since, with a reported 63% increase during the 2021–22 admissions cycle. This uptick is great news for the college admissions landscape, from a financial and cultural perspective.

International students often pay full price, contribute significantly to local economies, and are an essential part of bringing diversity to the college experience. They can also experience the same level of overwhelm when looking for the right school to enroll in.

Tap into international alumni and ask them to share their stories. Build community abroad to show prospective students that your school is welcoming and the right place to call home, even if for a short while.

9. Wait Lists are Expected to Get Longer

Not all schools use wait lists, but for those that do, they are a large part of the college enrollment process. Wait lists are a large part of the college enrollment process. Schools have been utilizing them more over the last couple of years as higher numbers of students are applying to colleges.

For students, wait lists can be perceived as positive or negative. On one hand, if a student is waitlisted, there’s the possibility of admission. On the other, they may prioritize other options if the wait is too long.

If your school is a top pick for students on the waitlist, encourage them to keep it as an option and not go elsewhere. Half of the students who are wait-listed will accept admission offers, so taking a few steps to keep them engaged will help ensure they’ll still choose your school.

If your school doesn’t already, give them opportunities — like submitting a statement of interest, recommendation letters, a waitlist letter, or final grades — to set themselves apart from other applicants.

You can also tap into your alumni association or current students — make it possible for prospective students to reach out to them. This can give them insights into how to improve their chances and give them an extra boost of motivation. This could be done via social media (i.e. a Facebook group or TikTok page).

Marketing Trends to Follow in the New School Year

2022–2023 is sure to bring a great amount of change just as 2021–2022 did. But by staying ahead of the curve, you’ll be ready for what comes next.

As the world of higher education continues to evolve and shift, maintaining a strong marketing strategy should always be at the center of how you’re working to reach prospective students.

Just as college admissions trends evolve, so do marketing trends with college students. Whether it’s social media “stories” or the increasing effectiveness of video, you can tap into what students are engaging with and elevate your school’s marketing efforts.

Follow our guide for the top 5 college marketing trends to know this year >

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