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Is US College Application Really Getting Harder?


Common App, one of the most popular college applications platform in the US, released the 2022-23 application season report last month. The data revealed interesting results that truly reflect the difficulty of college applications. Here are some notable findings:


  • A sharp increase in the number and volume of freshman applicants;

  • A rise in applicants from underrepresented minority groups;

  • More than half of the local applicants came from economically affluent areas;

  • The number of international students are growing three times faster than domestic applicants;

  • The proportion of students submitting their SAT/ACT standardized scores have decreased slightly compared with last year;

  • The number of applications accepted by public universities has grown faster compared to private universities.



Number of applicants and number of applications


As of March, compared to the 2019-20 application season, the number of applicants increased by 21%, the number of applications increased by 30%, and the average number of applications submitted by each student increased by 8%.



Changes in the Number of Freshman Applicants in the Last 4 Years Source: Common App


Changes in the Number of Applications in the Last 4 Years Source: Common App



If we are to compare the number of applicants and applications in the past four years, it shows that there is a slow but steady growth in the overall data.




Family Economic Income and Application


The information gathered by Common App regarding the socioeconomic status of the applicant is quite similar to the American Community Survey's Household Income Data based on the US zip code. This categorizes students under 5 groups based on their household income.



4-year comparison of the number of applicants with different family incomes

Source: Common App



Based on Common App’s data, students who apply during the EA/ED period typically live in more affluent neighborhoods. The chart above reflects this trend as well with 54% of applicants coming from high-income areas while only 7% come from low-income areas. Since the 2019-20 cycle, the number of applicants from the two lowest-income groups has grown by 22% while the highest-income group only grew by 16%.


However, despite these recent increases in representation, there is still much to be done in providing support for students from low-income communities.



Domestic Students vs International Students


The number of domestic applicants varies from state to state. In four years, South Carolina saw a 74% increase in applicants, followed by a 69% increase in Texas.


On the other hand, South Dakota, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine all saw declines in varying degrees.


On average, U.S. based applicants grew by 18% over the four-year period.


California and New York are Still the States with the Most Applicants Source: Common App



As for international applicants, the number grew quite rapidly. Compared with 18% of domestic applicants, the growth rate of international students is three times higher at 55%!


During the 2019-20 cycle, there were 88,443 international applicants. This 2022-23 cycle, the number grew to 136,925 with students hailing mostly from China, India, Ghana, Nigeria, and Canada.



The growth trend of the number of domestic vs international student applicants

Source: Common App



In another Common App report, compared to domestic students, international students are more likely to apply to well-known universities with lower acceptance rates. At the same time, 65% of international applicants choose to apply early, especially among Chinese students.



ED Application Ratio of International Students Source: Common App



Even with the binding agreement between applicants and universities, historically, the admission rate among ED applicants is higher than that of RD applicants. As such, international students aspiring to join a prestigious university consider this as the best choice. However, according to various data from many domestic education platforms, the acceptance rate among domestic Chinese students has shrunk significantly compared to last year.


In the words of David, our own Senior Consultant here at Enlighteens, the ED round for Chinese students applying to US colleges is like “hunger marketing by luxury brands,” which attracts everyone to fight for it.


In a highly globalized world, the competition for college admissions has never been more fierce. With applicants hailing from different parts of the world, students have to learn how to set themselves apart. This entails a holistic approach to designing their application, one that does not focus solely on academics. Navigating this battlefield can be quite challenging. However, with the help of the skilled consultants at Enlighteens, this becomes an achievable task!


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