What You Need to Know: 2022 College Trends and Predictions for 2023

In 2022, our team of 18 college counselors loved getting back on the road, zigzagging across the country to revisit campuses throughout the U.S., as well as many universities in Europe, Canada and the UK, that had been available to us only via video touring during COVID restrictions. Right now we are enjoying the the final stretch of our work with the 165 soon-to-be high school graduates from over 20 states and 15 countries whom we’ve guided step-by-step through the college journey with the hopes they have not only grown as young adults in this self-discovery rite of passage, but will also end up at as broad a range of the 99 “best fit” colleges of our last year’s group of eclectic students. What’s been especially fulfilling has been following the long arc of development of a batch of our current seniors who returned to us for college planning after we had had the privilege of guiding them in their independent school placement process a while back.

We hope you will find some value in this summary of last year’s trends in the fields of school and college planning and our future predictions for 2023’s rapidly shifting admission landscape.

2022 College Admissions Trends:

  1. While the overall teenage population continues to shrink, selective colleges became even more competitive due to these four factors:
    • Test Optional policies enacted during COVID stuck around, prompting more students from all backgrounds to shoot for the moon.
    • International applicants have returned in full force with the lifting of COVID restrictions, the widely-perceived-more-internationally-friendly Biden administration in office, and the added enticement of test-optional U.S. admissions.
    • Under-resourced students submitted 37% more apps this year, again partially due to the ability to bypass the requirement to submit an SAT or ACT.
    • More students who received good news on Early Action applications right before the holidays decided to up the ante and add more ambitious schools to their January 1 second round of applications.
  2. Transfers apps up – We’ve seen an uptick in transfer applications, as many students weren’t able to set foot on campus when they had to make their final college enrollment decision during the pandemic. Others have found that they weren’t college ready due to COVID’s impact on their high school learning experience.
  3. Students taking an extra year – We are helping our current students who may not be “college ready” avoid a later need to transfer by considering a gap year or post-graduate year search. We’ve noticed more families coming to us with this “extra year” in mind as well.
  4. Even more Early Decisions More colleges filled more than half of their total freshmen spots via Early Decision, including many for impact athletes. We were privileged to work with student-athletes in, among other sports, lacrosse, football, baseball, basketball, golf, track, skiing, swimming, soccer and rowing who were part of this early wave of acceptances and have already found appropriate colleges in the EDI and EDII rounds.

2023 Predictions – Disruption lies ahead. Meanwhile, we predict college admissions will follow the same volatile path as climate change, with a handful of looming extreme weather events in the admission landscape forecast:

  1. The Supreme Court will end Affirmative Action, making college campuses less diverse. Though some students will feel this movement will increase their chances of being accepted at more selective schools, we predict that a wave of less qualified candidates will attempt to capitalize of the admission spaces vacated by the end of affirmative action and flood selective schools with even more apps in the same way test optional admissions spurred more apps from long-shot candidates and had the effect of making admission more, rather than less, competitive for candidates.
  2. A little bit of the loss of diversity expected once the SCOTUS scraps Affirmative Action will be made up as we predict that legacy admissions will continue to erode in importance as Tufts, and others, may soon join Amherst in eliminating preferences to children of alums, the way Cal Tech, Johns Hopkins and MIT did away with the legacy edge years ago. Candidates of color and first generation students typically have not benefited from legacy admissions. (Public universities typically don’t give an edge to children of alums.)
  3. Last year’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe vs Wade will likely lead to fewer students, especially women, applying to colleges states where women’s access to health-care is restricted, like Texas, Florida, Louisiana (Tulane) and Georgia (Emory and Georgia Tech). Some less-qualified students may see this loss of qualified candidates applying to some of the country’s most selective universities as a chance for them to have a better chance to overcome the admission odds, putting their overall college application strategy at potential risk. Here are more details on our specific predictions..
  4. Access to “realistic” college essays created by Artificial Intelligence/ChatGPT will lead to skepticism among college admission office about the authenticity of a piece of writing, and fuel discussion about adding other means of assessment to applications to mitigate the potential impact of AI-generated essays, including more “live” assessments of student’s communication skills. Here are a few samples of what we may see as part of future application requirements:
    • Interviews (which have faded in number the past few decades)
    • Proctored, In-person writing assignments (which a couple of prep schools already require)
    • Graded essays from school
    • Brief videos that students upload to their application (the way Brown does already)
    • Regional admissions reps interacting with students at their high school, live or on Zoom
    • A possible return of the SAT timed essay requirement
  5. Speaking of testing, in 2023 our international friends are once again serving as guinea pigs for a major change in the SAT, as they will take the online Digital SAT in March. We anticipate this rollout will go much more smoothly than the ill-fated online APs during COVID, which were rushed into production. The new test is not only more convenient, since it’s online, but it’s also shorter. It’s delivered in an adaptive format, meaning questions get tougher the more often a student gets a question right. The online PSAT is scheduled to be rolled out to American students this fall.
  6. Bottom line: Admissions readers burned out from time-consuming holistic reads may ultimately ask the SAT or ACT testing requirement to be reinstated once the health crisis subsides and the objective, comparable data provided by the SAT and ACT becomes easier to obtain.

What we are doing at McMillan Education to leverage what we know about the landscape: How can juniors best navigate the college process given this dynamic landscape? Here’s our College Admissions Advice for 2023 for simplifying and streamlining the process, with the goal of matching each teenager to the right college fit – start with some some sage words about “fit” from a university president:

  • We’re starting research earlier with our sophomores and juniors with our W.I.S.E. Method to keep them a step ahead and ensure they are looking at the substantive differentiators among and between college choices beyond the superficial brand recognition, challenging them in a supportive manner to know themselves and to understand what specifically various colleges offer to excite them and to fulfill their potential growth.
  • We are prepared to help our juniors, who will soon be our seniors, understand that while test optional admissions continue in these post-COVID years appear to open more possibilities to them, the test-optional landscape actually creates much higher risk for students to make highly ambitious decisions about their final lists and application strategies that can cost them access to still-competitive but accessible colleges. So we remain committed to continuing to help our students and families understand the potential pitfalls of the test-optional landscape.
  • We will continue to challenge students and families to be open to looking at the incredible colleges and universities that may fall into their Target and Likely categories, since yesterday’s Target Schools are today’s Reach Schools. As a local example that encapsulates the national trend of competitive admissions, Boston University’s acceptance rate, which was 49% 10 years ago, was just 14% last year; Northeastern’s admit rate has dropped from 35% to 7% in the last decade.

That’s the big picture. As for us, we’re privileged to work with your children, who constantly inspire us (here’s Ava and Conor’s wonderful story) and provide tremendous hope for the future. We also know we need to not only zig-zag the country visiting campuses, but we are also committed to constantly honing our counseling skills, which means we regularly convene McMillan Education professional development trainings and book groups to stay ahead of trends, agile and innovative. Here’s a particularly compelling book we discussed about the demands of parenting in a college competitive world that you may find helpful. Meanwhile, because the students we work with also remind us of the importance of playful joy, we gather to have fun and share time as fellow counselors! Finally, here’s a final shout out to you and your children this year as we hope for a less disruptive spring and a healthier 2023.


About The Author

Don McMillan, M.A., M.F.A.