Admissions pools are shrinking, but applications are up. Acceptance rates are down, but institutions are re-evaluating their marketing to attract more applicants. International applicants are on the rise, and looking for a career path before they even apply. Holistic admissions and demonstrated interest are becoming key to a successful application. And all of this is just the basic rundown.
For both institutions and applicants, the admission cycle for 2019 may be hard to navigate. Thanks in large part to applicants applying to as many institutions as possible, in an effort to guarantee acceptance, institutions are changing the way they review applications, and how they present themselves. Add an influx of international applications to the mix, and things get even more interesting.
We sifted through the data and came up with the top admissions trends for 2019. Trends that admissions officers and applicants might want to consider.
1. Holistic Admissions
Harvard University brought holistic admissions practices to the forefront last year, as a defence. When confronted with a lawsuit concerning discrimination against Asian applicants, Harvard shot back by explaining that they use a holistic admissions approach to ensure a fair process (and other top universities agreed). By looking at grades, essays, background, experience, and past opportunities, Harvard states their admissions process tries to identify talent in disadvantaged groups.
Holistic admissions are now a well respected strategy for assessing an applicant’s ability to succeed in a given program. By looking at an applicant’s entire portfolio, admissions officers are able to identify top talent, regardless of the applicant’s access to traditional resources. This adds to an institutions diversity, and greatly increases an applicant’s chances of finding a program that is the right fit for them.
Holistic admissions are also a great way to identify applicants who will succeed in multiple areas of a discipline and not just the academic. For example, a teacher candidate who is terrified of public speaking may not succeed in the classroom trials. While a prospective physician with terrible bedside manner may risk future lawsuits.
For admissions officers, the holistic approach also helps institutions understand if an applicant will enroll once accepted. An applicant who is engaged during the interview process, or has built their portfolio of experience specifically to fit a program, is probably intent on studying at that institution.
For applicants, the holistic approach allows all skills to shine through and encourages you to think about finding a program that really fits. It’s a well rounded approach that looks at each applicant as a unique individual.
2. Applicants on The Job Hunt
For institutions, attracting talented applicants is becoming increasingly difficult. While holistic practices help institutions identify the best applicants overall, enrollment rates after acceptance are still lowering every year. The top candidates, often applying to several institutions on average, receive multiple offers. This leaves institutions to rely on waitlists and selling themselves after acceptance. International applicants are also more likely to apply to schools that have high employability rates after graduation. Because of these factors, institutions are focused on proving that graduates are “job-ready”.
For admissions, this means increased attention on identifying applicants who have a set future plan. These applicants are more likely to be invested in the institution from the day they apply, and are more likely to enroll after acceptance.
For applicants, this means Universities and colleges are promoting classes that encourage future success. For example, many institutions have invested heavily in, and are encouraging applicants to apply to, entrepreneurship programs and incubators. These programs give the skills to succeed in an increasingly competitive job market.
3. Applicants are Diversifying
In 2019, applicants will be applying to more schools than ever before. This is a confusing trend as applications are up, while enrollment rates are down. One third of North American applicants are expected to apply to seven schools or more for the 2019 academic year. Top institutions are overwhelmed with applications, while smaller institutions find that acceptance rates are not converting to enrollments.
What does this mean for applicants and institutions? Getting used to waitlists and being more selective.
Institutions are looking for the top-talent applicants. At the same time, applicants are waiting for the acceptance letters to roll in before making a decision on which school to attend. In some cases, applicants are changing institutions after enrollment once they get off their dream school’s waitlist. The result is that no one really knows who is going to which institution until the last minute. Applicants may find themselves on five waiting lists come April. Or, with five acceptances and only two months to squeeze in campus visits.
On the other side, institutions are trying to keep their programs full, and ensure that the maximum number of applicants will enroll after receiving acceptance. Medical schools in the US have changed their admissions process and are now asking applicants to make their final decisions by April 30th. This came from applicants in previous years backing out shortly before semester start dates (or even after start dates in some cases) as a spot opened up in another institution.
In general, both applicants and institutions are becoming more critical. Applicants are spending more time deciding on a final institution that truly fits their aspirations. Admissions officers are also spending more time selecting applicants who adhere to their institution’s values and will likely achieve future success.
4. Demonstrated Interest Takes Center Stage
Continuing the idea of institutions looking for applicants who are also likely to enroll, admissions officers are now more focused on demonstrated interest. While applying to a large number of institutions seems helpful, this new focus on demonstrated interest means there is a lot more work involved with each application.
Admissions officers are looking at an applicant’s campus visits, email contact, regional admissions event attendance, essays, and interviews more than ever. For an applicant to demonstrate interest in an institution, they must be ready to spend a lot of time showing investment. For institutions, a higher demonstrated interest means there is a better chance the applicant will enroll if accepted.
For institutions that already have high yield rates, such as UofT or MIT, demonstrated interest is becoming a larger chunk of the holistic approach. These institutions are looking for candidates who have plans already made and are well rounded enough to succeed post-graduation. Demonstrated interest is a great way for admissions officers to understand an applicant’s true intent behind applying.
5. International Applicants Surge
While this may be in flux in the US right now, there are still record numbers of international applicants attending North American higher education institutions this year. For applicants, this means there is a much higher competition rate for some of the top universities and colleges. For admissions staff, this means there is an entirely new pool of applicants to select from, with skills that set them apart in different ways.
On the admissions side, institutions have been able to make up for fledgling enrollment rates, and increase diversity, through marketing to international applicants. However, attracting these applicants can be complicated. VISA issues and study permits aside, international applicants still need to prove North American equivalencies. Also, international applicants tend to be incredibly selective about the institutions they apply to, and spend time researching the future value of enrollment before applying. While international student admissions and enrollment are complicated, institutions can be sure accepted applicants will enroll.
For applicants, this trend is something to focus on. Attending an institution with a high international student rate can be great for an applicant’s future goals. Applicants who enroll in these institutions often experience the benefits of making international connections and networking on an unimaginable scale.
6. Institutions Get Social Media Savvy
More competition to secure enrollments means institutions are upping their social media outreach. Institutions are spending time and resources to improve their website landing page, write engaging blog content, and increase their presence across all social media platforms. While these marketing maneuvers are great at attracting more attention to a program or institution, social media also plays a huge role in helping admissions officers and applicants make the right decision.
For applicants, spending time on an institution’s social media stream helps with understanding the culture of that institution. Applicants are given a view into how the institution presents itself, and the engagement level of current students. For example, more serious institutions may choose to show an academic based profile across social media. If students are engaged in the content, responding to events or commenting on posts, it’s easy to understand that this academic focus is shared between students and the institution. Following an institution’s social media outreach gives a better look at their culture than a weekend visit ever could.
Applicants will also find it easier to assess how well an institution aligns with their goals. In an effort to show value, institutions make information about past graduates’ current careers, academic experience, and future prospects readily available.
However, applicants need to remember that admissions officers are also looking at their social media. A recent survey by Kaplan Test prep shows that 68% of institutions believe looking at social media is acceptable in the admissions process. In 2017, Harvard actually revoked ten acceptances after discovering the applicants participated in an unsavoury private facebook group. So, applicants need to make sure their social media presence is ready for critiquing.
For admissions officers, social media is a great way to increase and understand demonstrated interest. Applicants will be more aware of the institution’s culture through their social media presences, and are therefore more likely to be informed about their choice. Understanding, and asking about, how applicants interact with an institution’s social media is a great indicator of how invested that applicant is in enrolment.
7. The Dynamic Shift
And finally, for those applicants who are looking to go back to college or university after years away, the timing has never been better.
Institutions, looking for new applicant streams, are opening their doors and creating programs geared towards extended learning and adult learners. For those wishing to expand their academic knowledge, change careers, or simply take a new course for fun, institutions are rolling out special programs that cater to these goals.
While these are the anticipated trends for 2019, constant shifts in the admissions field mean that this is going to be a dynamic year for applicants and admissions officers. From understanding holistic admissions, to taking advantage of social marketing, there is a lot of information to be aware of and process. We will keep you updated on the trends, so follow us on linkedin or twitter to see what’s new and noteworthy.