Special Report

Colleges With the Largest Increases in Applicants

Fueled by the uncertainties around the coronavirus pandemic and wider adoption of policies that only recommend, rather than require, SAT and ACT test scores, high school students applied for a record number of colleges in the 2020-21 college admissions cycle, driving application totals nationwide. (These are the highest and lowest paying college majors in America.)

From California to New England, the number of applications to accredited colleges and universities in 2021 was in some cases double the number in the previous admissions cycle.

Applications to top-shelf schools like U.C. Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania in the last admissions cycle rose by 28% and 34%, respectively, compared to the previous cycle, according to the Los Angeles Times. Colgate University, the private liberal arts college in Hamilton, New York, saw applications jump 102% in 2021. Looking at the past five academic cycles, however, Colgate does not even make it onto the list of the top 40 schools.

To determine the 40 colleges with the largest increases in applicants over the past five academic cycles, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed applications data from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Colleges and universities were ranked based on the percentage increase in applications from the 2015-16 school year to the 2020-21 school year. 

Only schools with at least 1,000 applications in the 2015-16 school year were considered. Acceptance rates in the 2020-21 school year, total enrollment as of fall 2020, and application requirements for the 2020-21 school year also came from the NCES. (See also the hardest college to get into in every state.)

The number of applicants to the 40 universities or colleges on our list jumped by at least 110%, like at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design since the 2015-16 academic year. The number of applicants spiked by 865% at Southern New Hampshire University.

The median increase in the applications to these 40 schools (five of them located in Florida) over the five-year period was 140%, and the median acceptance rate was 70%. Most of these colleges are small, with a median total enrollment of just 4,195 students. 

Total enrollment at the 40 schools on the list stands at 454,415. Southern New Hampshire University, which is the only school on this list that is primarily an online campus, claims about 30% of this total enrollment. 

Here are the colleges with the largest increase in applicants

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