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When I work with students, we focus on the parts of their applications they can mostly control: selecting appropriate courses, earning the best grades, exploring their interests, making an impact through their activities, and thoughtfully presenting all their “good stuff” through their writing and responses. Then the applications are submitted, and we wait.

Ten years ago, approximately 27,500 students applied to the University of Florida. Last year 64,500 students applied. But the number of traditional on-campus spots hasn’t changed much in ten years. So, it’s reasonable to assume that because UF has more students to choose from, they raised their expectations for applicants. Colleges throughout the country have seen a similar uptick in the numbers of applicants and have had to adjust the number of acceptances accordingly. Simply put, it’s not easy to predict application outcomes these days. And the number of total applicants is, well, completely out of a student’s control.

What drives this mania to apply to more colleges? Here is what I am looking closely at this year:

Athletic Success

When a football team unexpectedly wins a big game or a basketball team makes it to March Madness, the TV screen fills with images of happy, excited students in the stands. There’s a sense of belonging and confidence that feels good. Who wouldn’t want to join that group? That’s why I’m keeping a close eye on University of Colorado Boulder, who recently finished their football season with first-year coach and Hall-of-Famer Deion Sanders. I’m also curious to see the application numbers for Furman University and Florida Atlantic University, both with notable wins—and memorable chants—in the 2023 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

State Enrollment Strategies

For many years now it’s been widely known that applying as an out-of-state student to UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Texas at Austin, and the colleges in the University of California system is competitive by design. At UNC, there’s a statute that requires 82% of the students to be from North Carolina, and once you throw in the ~220 recruited athletes each year that may fill that other 18%, the odds are slim. Similarly, UT-Austin guarantees admission to the top 6% of Texas senior classes. And the UC system has a higher GPA minimum requirement for out-of-state students than for in-state applicants.

I’m interested to see how new policies in South Carolina and Tennessee play out this season. The University of South Carolina has committed to admitting the top 10% of South Carolina high school graduating classes. Similarly, in Tennessee, students who either rank in the top 10% of their graduating class or achieve a GPA of 4.0 or higher are assured admission to all campuses within the University of Tennessee system. I wonder if this will impact the number of out-of-state offers.

Test Optional Policies

Many colleges who piloted the choice of not including test scores as part of the admission review have now decided to either extend or make permanent the test optional policy. There’s no longer a test score range dissuading students from applying; therefore, students are applying to more schools adding to the overall increase in application numbers. The colleges I’m paying particular attention to this year include University of Miami, Clemson, University of Tampa, Northeastern, and Brown.


Now you know that when a student asks me for their “chances,” I’m thinking about much more than their courses, grades, activities, test scores, and essays!


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