Increase in applications from first-gen and underrepresented students

Total application volume for fall 2022 admission at U.S. colleges and universities is up more than 20 percent compared with 2019-20 numbers, according to a Common App report on activity at 853 member schools through February 15. Applications to the most selective public and private colleges, those that accept less than 50 percent of applicants, saw the largest gains, and the number of applicants from underrepresented minority groups rose significantly.

Encouraging signs for college enrollment

According to Higher Ed Dive, the update from Common App signals that colleges and universities may experience an enrollment recovery after a pandemic-related slump. The growth was especially pronounced at colleges and universities with the most competitive admissions, whose application volume increased by 25 percent across two years. Moderately selective institutions, which admit between 50 to 74 percent of applicants, and less-selective institutions, which admit more than 74 percent of applicants, saw their application volume increase by 17 percent between 2019-20 and 2021-22.

Overall, 60 percent of applications went to private institutions. However, public colleges saw greater growth: their application volume rose 25 percent across two years, compared with 18 percent at private colleges.

Growth in first-gen, underrepresented minority applicants

Common App also reported an increase in applications from first-generation students and underrepresented minority applicants. Overall, the number of first-year applicants rose by 14 percent between 2019-20 and 2021-22. During that time, the number of first-generation applicants and underrepresented minority applicants–defined as Black, Latinx, Native American, or Alaskan Native and Pacific Islander students–increased by 21 and 17 percent, respectively. “Indeed, first-gen applicants increased at nearly twice the rate of continuing-gen applicants over the same period,” the Common App notes.

The rise in applications among underrepresented students might reflect the growing number of colleges no longer requiring standardized test scores. The share of Common App schools requiring test scores fell from 55 percent in 2019-20 to 5 percent in 2021-22. This year, 48 percent of applicants included test scores, a slight increase from last year, but a sharp decrease from two years ago, when 76 percent of applicants submitted scores.

The latest data on first-generation and underrepresented minority applicants are “very heartening” given the declines seen during the height of the pandemic, Preston Magouirk, a data scientist at Common App and report co-author, told Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

Related: Common App sounds alarm about dip in first-gen, low-income applicants >

Uncertainty remains

Even with the encouraging across-the-board increases in applications, observers say there are ample opportunities for improvement—and uncertainty about which students will actually enroll. Mirroring previous years, over half of the applicants in Common App’s data came from the nation’s wealthiest quintile of ZIP codes, while only six percent came from the bottom quintile.

And while the number of international applicants increased by 33 percent—nearly three times the rate of domestic applicants— it remains unclear whether international students will accept admission or be able to come to the United States.

Other advocates have pointed out that simply receiving applications from first-generation and underrepresented minority applicants does not mean those students will enroll—or have the financial and programmatic support needed to get to and through college. “It will be interesting to see how the increases in applications translate to offers of admission and, ultimately, enrollment and persistence of underrepresented minorities and first-generation students,” said David A. Hawkins, chief education and policy officer at the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

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