Common App Sees More Students Applying to College This Year

A Common App study finds more first-generation, rural, and underrepresented students are applying to college than the last academic year.
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Published on April 9, 2024
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  • Common App student applications rose 7% from about 7 million to 7.5 million from last academic year.
  • The study found 10% more people from underrepresented groups, defined as any Black or African American, Latino/a, American Indian or Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander applicants, applied to college than last year.
  • The application growth rate for public and less-selective colleges was higher than for private and more-selective colleges.

More students applied to college this academic year through the Common App than last year, a new study from the organization found.

The Common App released the study March 14, finding that more students applied to college in 2023-24 than in 2022-23. And first-generation, rural, and underrepresented groups contributed to the boost. The Common App defines underrepresented groups as any Black or African American, Latino/a, American Indian or Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander applicants.

The Common App is a streamlined college application system that allows prospective students to apply to several of its roughly 830 member colleges and universities through one application.

Overall, applications rose 7% from about 7 million to 7.5 million. Through March 1, 2024, 1,313,763 distinct first-year applicants applied to the Common App's member schools — up 6% from 1,243,246 in 2022-23.

More Underrepresented Students Applied

In total, the number of prospective students from underrepresented groups who applied to college on the app increased by 10% from last year. The Common App saw:

  • 12% more American Indian or Alaska Native students applying
  • 10% more Latino/a students applying
  • 9% more Black or African American students applying

After the U.S. Supreme Court banned race-conscious college admissions in June 2023, experts predicted college enrollment numbers for historically excluded groups would decline. That's what happened at California public universities after race-conscious admissions were banned at public institutions in the state in 1997.

Two years prior, 20% of students enrolling in University of California schools were from historically excluded groups. Two years after the ban, the number dipped to a record-low 15% and didn't begin to recover until 2006.

The Supreme Court's decision also heavily impacts highly selective private universities, which rely more on standardized tests, legacy preferences in admissions, and early decision admissions practices. The application growth rate was slowest for these institutions, according to the study.

The Common App found that students are favoring public and less selective colleges when applying over private and more selective colleges. Less selective schools have an admittance rate of 75% or higher. Selective schools have admittance rates below 25%.

Applicants to public Common App member colleges grew by 10%, while those applying to private colleges only increased by 5%.

Legacy admissions are also common at elite universities, though they have come under fire since the Supreme Court's decision. Elite schools like Amherst College, Johns Hopkins University, and Wesleyan College have all ended the practice.

Legacy admissions favor students whose family members are alums of the university. Many legacy students are white — leaving fewer opportunities to enroll a more diverse class.

More Low-Income and First-Generation Students Applied

Students from below-median income ZIP codes and rural, small town, and micropolitan urbanicity areas are applying at higher rates, according to the Common App study. While the number of first-generation applicants grew, non-first-generation student applicants grew faster.

Many first-generation and low-income students face financial and guidance barriers to applying to college.

These students and their families may not know about different scholarship opportunities, how to apply to college, or that the sticker price for college is often much higher than they would pay after getting financial aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Students from lower-income areas also may not have the same educational resources as their peers from wealthier areas. Some schools may have fewer Advanced Placement credit offerings and dual enrollment opportunities.