Common App: Interest in selective schools soars among international and first-gen students

by Jeremy

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Dive Brief: 

  • Applications to selective colleges helped drive an 11% year-over-year increase as of Feb. 15 in submissions to the roughly 900 colleges using the Common App, according to the latest data from the organization.  

  • The majority of colleges waived standardized test scores as an application requirement, with fewer than half (44%) of submissions including them. That’s down from more than three-quarters (77%) of applications last year.

  • Temporary test-optional policies at selective schools are thought to be encouraging more students to apply to them, while interest in less-selective colleges is diminishing this season. 

Dive Insight:

Colleges using the Common App received nearly 6 million applications by Feb. 15. Some of the increase was caused by prospective students applying to more institutions; the number of submissions per applicant increased by 9% year over year to 5.8. Overall, the number of applicants grew by 2% to a little more than 1 million. 

The latest data also showed a couple of concerning trends start to fade. The number of applicants who would be first-generation college students is trailing 1.6% from last February, shrinking a gap that was nearly twice as large a month ago. And the number of students using fee waivers is now on par with last year. 

Interest in large, more-selective private schools rose, particularly from international and first-generation students, those from traditionally underrepresented racial minority groups, and those who receive fee waivers. Large selective public colleges tended to see smaller increases. 

Selective private schools enrolling 10,000 or more students, for instance, saw a 24% increase in applications from foreign students. Meanwhile, less-selective private and public colleges of the same size saw declines of 10% and 2%, respectively. 

Submissions to large, selective private colleges rose 20% from first-generation students, 22% from fee-waiver recipients and 24% for underrepresented students. Their applications to less-selective private schools of that size were mostly flat with last year. 

This tracks with what top-ranked colleges have been reporting. Regular-decision undergraduate applications to Harvard University, in Massachusetts, rose 42% for the upcoming academic year after the Ivy League school temporarily went test-optional. New York University, which also waived standardized testing requirements, saw a 20% increase in applications. 

They are two of several selective universities that have seen surging interest from applicants. On the other hand, some less-selective colleges are seeing interest lag.

Large, less-selective private colleges, for instance, saw a 10% decline in applications, while their public counterparts had a 2% drop, according to Common App data.

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