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Higher Ed Admissions Trends in 2022

by Sirley Carballo · Jun 29, 2022

Although colleges and universities have to plan and invest in many different areas of student life and engagement, admissions remains one of the top priorities. The reason behind this truth is relatively obvious—without a new, recurring influx of students, higher education institutions struggle to remain in good standing.

The world of admissions has undergone many changes, including ups and downs, throughout the past several years. On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, admissions personnel are tasked with re-engaging students who may have taken time off, considered other options, or looked elsewhere for their degrees.

The foundation of a strong admissions strategy is built upon a keen understanding of the current admissions climate. In this post, we’ll introduce some of the top factors and latest college admissions trends for college campuses around the country. 

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What Factors Affect the College Admissions Process?

There are many different reasons why each academic year brings a fresh set of successes and challenges to college admissions teams. 

These factors can be unique to a specific institution or more generally applicable to most colleges and universities nationwide. 

Some of the most prominent factors that affect college admissions numbers each year include:

  • The number of new student applicants prior to an academic year (particularly regarding the number of incoming freshmen)
  • Amount of student and financial aid that’s available 
  • Streamlined admissions processes (how easy it is for students to apply)
  • Level of competition in admissions or academic requirements
  • Recruiting and marketing efforts (how thoroughly schools market their programs)

As you can see, some of these factors fall on the side of new students, while other considerations are in line with the school itself. Most always, a combination of factors affect the current college admissions climate.

Top 5 Trends in the Current Admissions Landscape

Regardless of whether you have a vested interest in admissions, or if you’re the one creating a full-fledged admissions strategy firsthand, it’s crucial to know where you stand. 

Recruiting, admissions, and enrollment are all quickly changing in their own unique ways. In 2022 and beyond, it’s time to adapt and learn in order to reach more students with effective and compelling messaging. 

1. Test Optional Policies Are Becoming Commonplace

Past generations might remember the importance (and stress) of having excellent test scores in order to move forward in the college admissions process. But now, more schools than ever are moving to a “test-optional” admissions process, which greatly affects high school students and high school graduates.

Although this trend became more prominent in 2020 (in the age of some of the most stringent COVID-19 policies) over 60% of all schools now have optional SAT and ACT policies. This is a huge change for future generations of incoming students. 

For students who still opt to take these important exams, higher scores can help applicants stand out from the rest of an incoming class.

2. International Student Enrollment is Rebounding

The coronavirus pandemic had a massive impact on international student enrollment, with a sharp percentage drop in international admissions across the board. U.S. News and World Report shares that international enrollment fell by over 45% in 2020.

Although the number of new international students is not back to where it was in a pre-pandemic time, this number appears to be rebounding with each successive academic year. Studying in the U.S. is still an appealing choice, although it may take some time for applications to return to pre-COVID numbers.

Schools and admissions offices should remain active and committed to helping international students both apply to academic programs and find the right fit. 

With support and guidance, international student numbers may see a boost within the next few semesters, particularly at schools that prioritize international enrollment.

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3. Students Are Seeking Inclusive and Valuable Academic Options

With today’s current events and cultural concerns, many high school seniors are looking to attend a future school that values equality. 

Within the admissions process, students are seeking affirmation that under-represented groups are both safe and welcome.

Reports from sources like CommonApp, a platform for streamlined college applications, also show that there has been an uptick in the number of applications from first-generation students and from those with underprivileged socioeconomic backgrounds. 

These trends demonstrate the need for colleges and universities to remain places of respite and inclusion for incoming students—regardless of background or beliefs. Not only do incoming applicants have a demonstrated interest in new academic experiences, but they want to do so in a diverse, collaborative, and valuable environment. Inclusivity is a very important guiding metric in 2022.

4. Schools Turn to Yield Protection to Fill Seats

As colleges move past the predictable COVID-19 enrollment dips, many higher education forecasters are predicting record numbers of new applicants in upcoming academic terms. While this is often a benefit for schools looking to make a rebound, it makes the applicant pool more competitive and narrow for students.

Institutions must be able to effectively navigate the different responses to Early Decision and Regular Decision timelines. For many schools that need to fill seats (without giving most away to “Early Decision” attendees), yield protection is becoming commonplace when working with prospective students.

Yield protection refers to the practice of turning away or deferring high-performing applicants who may be more likely to attend another school once accepted. This process means that schools are more likely to award acceptance to the students most likely to enroll.    

5. The Personal and “Human” Side is Most Important

As more schools move away from test scores, legacy acceptance policies, and other academic merits, the “human” side of undergraduate enrollment is becoming a focal point. 

Higher ed institutions are increasingly interested in the interpersonal backgrounds and unique qualities of each student prior to enrollment.

For students, this means that things like essays and interviews will take on more importance throughout the college application process. Applicants must put their best writing and communication skills on display in order to make a strong first impression. Test optional schools are most likely to adopt these policies.

From a school’s perspective, this means providing every student with a fair opportunity. As admissions moves beyond AP test scores or ACT scores to decide what is “good or bad,” they must be willing to compensate with objective policies for admissions decisions. 

How a Student Engagement CRM Can Make a Difference

A comprehensive student engagement CRM is an extremely beneficial tool in a world of shifting admissions cycles. Not only does strong and reliable data remain the same (regardless of what other trends come and go), but it provides a baseline for admissions and enrollment staff to make the most informed decisions possible.

Accurate and real-time student data can also make the admissions and enrollment journey highly personalized and unique. As students (and their families) become more digitally aware, it will be necessary to improve digital processes, brand messaging, and user experiences. These efforts can go a long way in communicating the rich value of an institution.

Get an Admissions Advantage

No matter what the current climate looks like, your campus can prepare for the regular ebbs and flows of admissions trends. With the best tools and investment into the right resources, you can shore up your admissions strategy and find tactics that actually work to attract this generation of students. 

At Element451, we know the importance of well-rounded admissions and college enrollment strategies to help your school meet incoming students where they are. 

Book a free Element451 demo today to start your journey towards student-centered admissions.


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