US Admissions 2023-24: Data, Trends, and Analysis for Your Journey to the Ivy League

05/04/202436 minute read
US Admissions 2023-24: Data, Trends, and Analysis for Your Journey to the Ivy League

This year’s final round of acceptance letters have just gone out from Ivy League schools and other leading universities. Are you wondering how to read the tea leaves and find some actionable insights for your college journey? Well, we’ve asked Crimson’s COO, Arkesh Patel, to provide his own analysis of the shifting 2023-24 admissions landscape, with a focus on the highly competitive Ivy League schools. As a bonus, we’ve asked Arkesh to close with expert tips on how you can make your own college application stand out when you're aiming for a top school.

Navigating the ever-evolving landscape of US university admissions can feel overwhelming. Especially in the current landscape!

As Crimson's COO, I find the changes and shifting trends we see in college admissions exciting, but if you’re trying to plan your own college journey, it’s daunting, even more so if you’re passionate about getting the best university opportunities possible.

Students monitoring the US admissions landscape are no doubt aware of at least some of the dynamic shifts impacting admissions policies and outcomes:

  • shrinking overall acceptance rates nationally
  • shifting early round acceptance rates
  • changes in affirmative action
  • the resurgence of standardized test requirements

But don’t worry, I’m going to touch on all these themes — recent acceptance rate statistics from top schools above all — along with analysis spotlighting the important trends for 2023-24.

Then, to help you get more insights, I’ll cover the four essential components of a winning application, helping you gauge your own admissions readiness as you plot the next steps of your own college journey.

Which Schools Are the Most Competitive in 2023-24?

Now that most of the top schools have sent out their last rounds of admissions offers for the Class of 2028, we have better insights into which schools are the most competitive right now, and if there are any important shifts underway.

A key indicator of exactly how competitive admissions is at any school is the school’s acceptance rate, or admit rate — the total number admitted divided by the number who applied.

As we’re about to look at the most competitive US schools for 23-24, it’s worth noting that a school’s rank and popularity and the admit rate kind of go hand-in-hand for obvious reasons.

Highest ranked schools draw more applicants, resulting in lower admit rates. But, since top schools have the lowest admit rates, these schools' low acceptance rates can also reinforce perceptions of their value and rank among their peers.

One important factor impacting how many applicants a school attracts are high-profile college rankings published by major news outlets, such as US News and World Report.

Something else to consider are yield rates.

Yield rates reflect how many admitted students actually accept their offer (# accepting an offer of admission divided by the # accepted for admission). Because they highlight the final choices students make about which school's offer to accept, and which to decline, yield rates can be another barometer of school quality and rank. In fact, did you know that by comparing data about choices like these, Crimson created its own unique list of the Top 25 US Colleges and Universities?

The table below shows not the highest ranking schools as such, but the most competitive schools, as in the schools with the lowest admit rates (lowest acceptance rates).

Most Competitive US Schools 2023-24
University2024 Admit Rate (Lowest to Highest)Rank (US News & World Report)
Stanford3.9% (2023 Admit Rate)3
Johns Hopkins5%9

Two things to keep in mind as you look at the table above:

  • The most competitive school is not always the highest-ranked school. Although the most competitive schools are generally among the highest ranked and vice-versa, as you'd expect, there can be exceptions, such as with Columbia and Vanderbilt, for example.
  • The most competitive schools are not all Ivies. Vanderbilt, Duke, and Johns Hopkins are examples of schools that are among most competitive in the US but aren't Ivies and they're also nor MIT or Stanford!

Top Admissions Insights for 2023-24

Big picture, admissions statistics YoY tend to have relatively moderate and nuanced fluctuations, but let's delve into a few that stand out in 2023-24. Subsequently we'll look at today's admissions landscape in the scope of longer term trends.

Inverse Trends at Two Top Ivies – Harvard Slipping & Yale Ascending

Harvard Hits a Pothole

Among the Ivies, Harvard has typically boasted the lowest acceptance rates.

In fact, looking at statistics from the fall of 2022, Harvard and CalTech were in the top rung for schools with the lowest acceptance rates, followed by Columbia, MIT, and Stanford.

For this year and last year, however, Harvard’s acceptance rate has reversed course. For Harvard’s Class of 2028, applications dropped steeply, by an astounding 17% in the early round, and a more nuanced but not negligible 3% in the regular round, compared to last year's numbers.

Whether due to controversies afflicting the school in the wake of the Oct. 7th attack on Israel, or other news or factors, Harvard’s acceptance rate for the Class of 2028 rose a couple of notches, up to 3.6%, putting the acceptance rates at Yale, 3.7%, and Columbia, 3.8%, right on par with Harvard.

Yale Gathers Steam

Yale’s data revealed a different trend and had two prominent highlights:

  • Early round applications barely changed YoY, but regular round applications shot up 11%
  • Yale admitted less students, with this year’s class shrinking by 6% compared to last year

The combination of more applicants and less admits at Yale this year had the expected outcome: Yale’s acceptance rate dropped to 3.7%, down from 4.4% last year.

Competition Grows More Widespread

With falling applications to Harvard as a backdrop, our analysis revealed that competition is concurrently increasing at selective non-Ivies.

For example…get ready…Duke and Vanderbilt were more competitive this year than both Brown and Dartmouth.

Other schools similar in rank to Duke and Vanderbilt, such as Rice and Northwestern, have also been steadily growing more and more competitive over the past decade.

The table below shows who's joining the Ivies in terms of intense competition, with an eye to each school's longer term admissions trendline:

Competition Spreads to More Universities
University2014 Admit Rate2024 Admit RateChange

Dartmouth and Vanderbilt have seen the most dramatic 10-year declines in their acceptance rates, but what stands out for the current year?

Well, among nuanced shifts from last year to now, Duke and Vanderbilt stand out as non-Ivies growing in popularity and becoming increasingly competitive:

  • Early round applications to Duke shot up a remarkable 29%.
  • Regular round interest in Duke also rose sharply, a full 8%.
  • Duke's overall acceptance rate for the Class of 2028 dropped to 5.1%, thus narrowly edging out two Ivies, Brown and Dartmouth.
  • Vanderbilt, also not an Ivy, saw a 13.5% increase in the number of applicants applying this year compared to last year, with its admit rate dropping from an already low 5.6% last year, to 5.1% this year.

Acceptance Rates Show Signs of Leveling Off

If you haven't got the news already, you're facing significantly more daunting admissions rates on your college journey today than students did ten years ago!

But I do have a sliver of good news to share —there are signs the trend toward increasing competition, if not reversing, is at least leveling off.

The Long Downward Trend

Over the past decade admissions rates at the Ivies have been, overall, on a steady downward trajectory, with the shift to test-optional admissions at many Ivies following the pandemic briefly accelerating the trend even further.

How much have acceptance rates declined percentage-wise during this time period? Well, at most of the Ivies acceptance rates have declined a full 30 to 50% over the past decade.

“Hundreds of thousands of high-achieving students apply to the Ivy League each year, and the numbers are growing! The Ivy League received 311,948 applications for the class of 2023 and a record 400,750 applications for the class of 2025. The incoming class of 2027 will likely beat that record with about 410,500 applications!”

- Crimson Education, "Ivy League Acceptance Rates for the Class of 2027"

The table below shows what admissions statistics look like going back nine years (Class of 2020), where these rates were three years later (Class of 2023, before the pandemic), and where they stood the year after the pandemic (Class of 2025), spotlighting the consistent downward slope of admit rates at the Ivies over multiple years:

Years of Declining Admit Rates at the Ivies
UniversityClass of 2020 Admit RateClass of 2023 Admit RateClass of 2025 Admit Rate

Leveling Off for Three Years in a Row

Comparing data for just the past two years, and this year (the Class of ‘26, ‘27, and ‘28), we see clear evidence that acceptance rates are currently stabilizing, but remain highly competitive.

Two of the eight Ivies, Harvard and Brown, have seen their acceptance rates gain a bit of extra lift YoY for two consecutive years, while acceptance rates at UPenn and Columbia also actually trended up for at least one of the last three years.

The table below shows acceptance rates at the Ivies for the Classes of ‘26, ‘27, and ‘28:

Are Admit Rates Leveling Off?
UniversityClass of 2026 Admit RateClass of 2027 Admit RateClass of 2028 Admit Rate

Early Round Admission Rates

Even with some good news that prospective applicants may want to celebrate, that admissions rates are leveling off, students and families with top-flight schools in their sights still face a daunting admissions landscape, with admissions rates this year at or near their lowest points in a decade.

Consider that for the Class of 2028, three Ivies — Harvard, Yale, and Brown — as well as two non-Ivies — Duke and MIT — saw overall acceptance rates as low as 5.2% (Brown) and 3.6% (Harvard).

And remember, students applying in the regular round are up against an even lower acceptance rate, compared to the overall rate.

But the inverse is also true — early round acceptance rates are often significantly higher compared to the overall and Regular Decision rates.

Admit Rates: The Early Round Advantage
UniversityEarly AppsTotal AppsEarly Admit RateOverall Admit Rate

Taking just Yale as an example from the table above to make our point, a comparison of the Early admit rate and Overall admit rate amounts to an early round acceptance rate favorability factor of +5.3% (9.0% vs. 3.7%).

Remembering that Yale's Regular Decision rate is even lower, at 2.75%, the early round advantage is even more pronounced, offering a favorable edge of +6.25% (9.0% vs. 2.75%).

Now imagine you’re planning your own journey to a top school like Yale, Brown, or Harvard in the next year or two, and wondering whether it makes sense to apply in the early round, or not.

There are definitely many factors to consider, but the table below, using this year’s admissions data, provides you a snapshot of how dramatic an advantage, statistically speaking, the early round acceptance rate can offer, compared to applying regular decision:

The Early Round Boost
UniversityRegular Round Acceptance RateEarly Round Acceptance RateEarly Round Advantage (Difference)
Yale2.75%9.0% (SCEA)+6.25%
Harvard2.7%8.7% (REA)+6.0%
Dartmouth3.85%17% (ED)+13.15%
Columbia2.95%11.9% (ED)+8.95%

The Early Round Advantages

Are you up to the challenge of applying early? If so, an early round strategy is well worth considering for the following reasons:

  • Smaller Applicant Pool: You compete against fewer applicants, as we've seen, potentially increasing your odds. The table above is a vivid reminder of how much higher early round acceptance rates tend to be at top schools, compared to regular round decision rates, spotlighting a significant numerical advantage.
  • Demonstrated Interest: Applying early and expressing how specific offerings at your prospective school align with your own interests is an effective way to signal a strong fit and commitment vis-a-vis the school you’re applying to.

Making Your Decision to Apply Early

While timing matters, demonstrating exceptional qualifications is paramount.

Whether you apply early or regular, the Ivies and other top schools, such as Duke, Vanderbilt, Stanford, MIT, the University of Chicago, or Northwestern, to name a few, are seeking students with outstanding academic records, diverse talents, and the potential to make significant contributions to their community.

With that in mind you need to look at all your circumstances to decide the best approach:

  • Be sure to consider any restrictions or conditions you’re taking on as an early round applicant.
  • See if the timeline fits with your circumstances, allowing you to submit an application by the early deadline.
  • Don't compromise on quality — ensure you can submit an application that's meticulously prepared and truly highlights your unique strengths and full potential.
  • Reach out to a skilled admissions advisor and get help if you feel uncertain what strategy is ideal for your individual situation.

A Shifting Admissions Landscape

Adding complexity to acceptance rate data and trends are a number of other shifting factors potentially impacting your college journey.

Early Admissions TrendsWhat the Data Tell Us

  • Schools with Early Action/Restrictive Early Action policies are growing less dependent on early round admits to fill their incoming classes.
  • Schools that have Early Decision policies have been increasing their reliance on early round admissions overall, during the past few years.
  • Early Decision Round II (EDII) programs are becoming important to more top universities, typically as a way to improve yield and lock in enrollment numbers. My analysis of initial data suggests such programs could significantly boost a student's odds for admission.

As an example of how EDII programs impacted acceptance rates, we can highlight Vanderbilt, where the EDII acceptance rate struck 10.3%, compared to 4.7% for RD applicants.

Similarly, at Johns Hopkins, the EDII acceptance rate likewise reached 10.3%, compared to 4.5% for RD.

Holistic Admissions without Race-Based Considerations

Most top schools have well-established commitments to building diverse student bodies and maintaining holistic approaches to admissions. One thing that has recently changed, however, is the legality of using race-based indicators to pursue these goals.

Last summer’s landmark Supreme Court ruling banned these preferences, changing a key feature of holistic admissions policies at many institutions across the US.

A Resurgence of Standardized Testing?

There is also uncertainty around the future of test-optional admissions policies.

While test-optional policies are recently become quite widespread and virtually the norm, some high-profile institutions have recently announced plans to revert to standardized testing. These include Dartmouth and Brown, and also Yale, where the test-optional policy is being replaced with a 'test-flexible' test score requirement that also incorporates AP and IB test score reporting options.

Test-Optional Admissions – Yes or No?
UniversityClass of 2027Class of 2028Class of 2029 (24–25 Admissions Year)

In February 2024, Dartmouth announced its plan to reintroduce SAT/ACT requirements for the Class of 2028, followed by Yale (reintroducing testing requirements with a “test-flexible” approach), and Brown.

In March 2024, Columbia announced plans to remain permanently test optional.

Princeton also will remain test optional, along with UPenn, at least through admissions for the Class of 2029.

Officials at Cornell have announced plans to remain test optional or test blind, depending on the school and program applied to, at least another year. 

Harvard has announced plans to remain test-optional through admissions for the Class of 2030.

“Students who do not submit standardized test scores will not be disadvantaged in their application process. Applicants will be considered on the basis of what they have presented, and students are encouraged to send whatever materials they believe would convey their accomplishments in secondary school and their promise for the future.”

- Havard University, Office of Admissions

Tips for Building Your Own Winning Application

Now that I’ve taken you on a tour through today’s Ivy League admissions landscape, you might be wondering if you can get some actionable tips for your own admissions application.

These tips can’t be a substitute for a more personalized approach, but the components I'm going to highlight do align with the core pillars of a competitive application and are the same components typically guiding our strategists and college counselors as they help students reach the best schools possible.

Four Pillars of a Strong Application

  1. Academics
  2. Evaluating Extracurriculars
  3. Crafting Compelling Essays
  4. Communicating Alignment and Strong Interest


At top universities there’s a strong expectation that students must be prepared to succeed in an academically rigorous and vibrant learning environment.

Your high school transcripts and standardized test scores are the academic touchstones admissions officers rely on when evaluating academic readiness and potential. You’ll be better positioned for competing at top schools if your transcripts show evidence of the following:

  • Advancement: Consistent academic engagement and progress over your high school career.
  • Ambition and Rigor: Rigorous courses (such as AP courses or an IB program, when available), reflecting deeper learning, effort, and ambition.
  • Intrinsic Curiosity and Exploration: Some combination of rich and broad intellectual and personal exploration (breadth across courses and elective choices) or intense depth of interest and commitment to certain subject-area interests.
  • Impressive Test Scores & Overall GPA: Achieving strong scores on SAT or ACT tests, as well as AP or IB tests, and a strong overall GPA all help you demonstrate solid foundational academic skills, including essential literacy and numeracy skills and analytical thinking skills.

Evaluating Your Extracurriculars

Your extracurriculars pull a lot of weight in a holistic admissions landscape, because they’re key to adding context to who you are outside of the classroom.

  • Extracurriculars can give depth and dimensionality to who you are, telling a story that goes beyond what may be an impressive list of academic scores and accomplishments. How do your extracurricular activities reflect or relate to your story? For example, working at a fast food restaurant after school may not seem highly relevant for college admissions at first, but if it tells something about your grit and perseverance as you, let's say, help your family navigate a tough economic time, or as you seek to live out a desire to be more self-reliant, then that after-school job is an extracurricular and can tell a vivid story that makes for a more memorable profile.
  • Extracurriculars build and reflect personal choices and valuable growth experiences, providing insights into your intellectual curiosity, your willingness to take risks, or ways you developed and used practical leadership skills for positive change or public service.

Extracurriculars create a holistic narrative of your values and potential, adding important information to other application components, such as personal essays and academics.

Crafting Compelling Essays

Success in college takes more than academic preparation and stellar study habits. It requires an ability to grow into meaningful values, navigate important life decisions, and develop interpersonal skills and an ability for self-reflection — all areas you can spotlight with compelling essays.

  • Be willing to write about something you care about. Your essays are a prime opportunity for letting admissions officers see you a bit from the inside out. Be sure to inject some moderate doses of candor, authenticity, and vulnerability. For example, showing an exceptional sense of humor may not seem significant, but does it light up the world for those around you, or help you navigate a personal crisis or struggle? If so, that sense of humor may not merely be a quirk of your personality but a trait that shines light on how you'll positively mature personally in college and positively impact campus life.
  • Your essay is a window into your social identify. Earning straight A's doesn’t guarantee you'll contribute value and joy to those around you — your essay is an opportunity to help admissions officers, eager to know you from afar, see crucial intangible qualities, such as how you see, treat, and interact with yourself, those around you, and the wider world.

“We read your words carefully, as they are yet another window into how you think, what you value, and how you see the world. Through your writing, we get a glimpse of what you might bring to our community, including your voice and creativity.”

- UPenn, Office of Admissions

Communicating Alignment and Strong Interest

Another important feature of a competitive application is one that highlights a strong interest and compelling ‘fit’ between your goals and interests and the school you’re applying to.

Is there a unique program within a larger school or department that’s ‘right up your alley’ so to speak, or a professor whose book you read one summer and found exceptionally inspiring or insightful…?

Thousands of students from around the world will apply to the top schools every year, often simply because it’s a top school and not for any other compelling reason.

When you spotlight a compelling interest and ‘fit,’ you're ahead of the pack in making your application more genuine, compelling, and memorable — quickly giving yourself a small but powerful edge.

Final Thoughts

You now know more than many of your peers when it comes to the big trends and more nuanced shifts that are shaping the US admissions landscape right now.

My hope is that you've found some insights to take away and use as you chart your own path, one leading you right to the doors of your dream school!

If you haven’t already connected with the Crimson student and advisor networks, remember that our counselors and students — who work as partners towards the same goal — have made Crimson Education a hands-down leader in admissions counseling, based on an amazing track record of success, including at the world's most selective schools.

Have questions about all of this? Most students and families start with a free consultation, as an easy way to check out how we might help!

It's been a pleasure sharing my analysis and thoughts with you today. Stay motivated and visit us again soon — we've got new insights to share on to our blog pages almost every day!