In this episode of Admissions Straight Talk, host Linda Abraham looks back at her predictions for the 2023/2024 application cycle and offers advice for current and future applicants. She reflects on her previous predictions, such as the increase in test options and waivers and the continued use of rankings in admissions. She also makes new predictions for the upcoming year, including the increased use of video in applications and the continuation of questions about lived experiences and contributions to inclusive environments. Linda advises current applicants to pursue parallel tracks, prepare for interviews, and address weaknesses while also considering reapplication strategies. For future applicants, she emphasizes the importance of clarifying goals, researching programs, and preparing for tests. She encourages all applicants to start early and seek expert guidance to maximize their chances of acceptance.
What’s coming down the pike in 2024 for applicants? How right or wrong was Linda Abraham with her predictions for the 2023/2024 cycle? What should applicants be doing now? We’re diving into all that in this episode of Admissions Straight Talk.
The academic world is at an inflection point [0:49]
It’s the second week of January, and the academic world is at an inflection point. It’s not just the new year. Yes, 2024 just started. It’s that the 2023-2024 application cycle is starting to wind down. As decisions come out, some people are admitted and some people are rejected, but it’s also that a new crop of applicants is emerging for the 2024-2025 cycle. That cycle is starting to come into focus.
At this inflection point, I’d like to examine some of my predictions for the 2023-2024 application cycle. I’m going to brave it again, and I’m going to make some additional predictions for the 2024-2025 application cycle, and finish the episode with suggestions and advice for current as well as new applicants.
Now, if you feel that you are at a crossroads with your educational and professional journey and aren’t quite sure which is the correct path for you to pursue, take advantage of Accepted’s free consultation offer. You can have a free 30-minute call with one of Accepted’s experienced admissions consultants. Just go to Accepted.com and click on Get Your Free Consultation in the upper right to have your free consultation.
Were Linda’s predictions for the 2023-2024 cycle right?
Now, let’s start off today’s show by exploring where I was right and where I was wrong in my predictions for the 2023-2024 application cycle.
Prediction: More withdrawals from rankings [2:07]
One of the things I predicted was more withdrawals from the rankings, which started in fall 2022. Med schools joined the ranking withdrawals, which I did not predict, and I didn’t make any predictions about MBA programs, but I did say that US News will use publicly available data and continue to rank programs. That is exactly what has happened. Those rankings sell lots of magazines and online subscriptions. Rankings are not going to go away as long as they produce sales. That part of my prediction was 100% correct, and they won’t go away as long as applicants, alumni, and recruiters continue to buy them, use them, and cite them constantly.
Prediction: More experimentation with test options and waivers [2:57]
I anticipated more experimentation with test options and waivers. In that, I was 100% right. I predicted more test options and waivers, except for medical schools, and indeed, that’s exactly what’s happened. Many, if not most, law schools now accept the GRE. Some accept other tests also. Most MBA programs accept the GMAT or GRE, and many also accept the executive assessment, and there was a switch over from the traditional GRE and GMAT to new versions of it, which are shorter. As I predicted, there has been very little change in connection with the MCAT and medical school.
In addition to the new GRE and the new GMAT, the GMAT focus, which are both shorter than the old versions, there’s also something new coming down the pike called the JD-Next option, which will be accepted by 25% of law schools according to an article that I saw on law.com. JDNext is a course in reading and analytics that is supposed to provide the skills you need in law school. At the end of the course, you take a test, which law schools will increasingly accept in place of the LSAT or GRE. According to the test administrators, there are no score disparities in performance between over and underrepresented groups in law school with this exam. Again, I predicted more experimentation. This is one more example of more experimentation in the testing arena for graduate school.
Prediction: Application volume will increase [4:18]
One other prediction I made where I was wrong is I anticipated that application volume will increase the cycle, and that didn’t happen. I was wrong. I anticipated a recession in 2023, which would lead to increased application volume, and I therefore encouraged applicants to apply early in the 2023/’24 cycle to try and beat the rush that I anticipated. The recession didn’t happen, and there, according to the data we have so far, was no spike in application volume, and probably the contrary, either it was flat or declined. So I was wrong in application volume, right on experimentation in the testing arena and changes in testing, and partially right on withdrawal from rankings.
Linda’s predictions for the 2024-2025 cycle
I’m still going to go out on a limb and give you my predictions for the upcoming year. I’ll modify some of them. I’ll try and be a little bit more humble about economics. But what do I see for the upcoming year?
Prediction: More use of video in applications [5:00]
I think there’s going to be more and more use of video in applications in the upcoming year. I think that’s partially a reaction to the presence of Chat GPT and AI, the easy access to it, and the fact that applicants are using it more and more. I also think that videos give schools an opportunity to assess an applicant’s poise and presence very inexpensively. Much less expensive than with an interview, and that’s less expensive for both the applicant and the school.
I also think that applicants today, this generation, is much more comfortable with video as a medium of expression than applicants, let’s say, 10 or 15 years ago. So all those factors are leading to increased use of video in graduate school applications.
Prediction: Application volumes will not increase if employment remains high [6:01]
Application volume is where I was off last year. Here’s what I’m going to say: it depends on employment numbers. If employment remains high and unemployment low, application volume will not increase. It may even decline further. If unemployment goes up, so will application volume. While application volume is low, new applicants have a better opportunity to get into more prestigious programs and also to snag valuable scholarships. If application volume increases, so does competition, and your chances of acceptance and scholarships go down, particularly if you’re talking about more prestigious and competitive programs. Regardless, this is a good time to be applying, both at the end of this cycle and, in particular, even more so at the beginning of the next cycle. Will it change next year? Will the application volume go up? Again, I’m going to let the economists predict the economy. I’ll just say that you are better off starting early, which is what I’m going to get to in a minute, and applying early next cycle so that if the economy does tank, you will beat the crowds trying to escape a bad job market.
Prediction: More questions about lived experiences [7:07]
What do I anticipate in terms of changes to essays, which is probably the more time-consuming part of the application process once you get the test behind you, if you have to take the test? More schools, even this year, are going to be asking about lived experiences and applicant contributions to inclusive environments. The Supreme Court decision ending race-conscious admissions was rendered on June 29th, 2023, and many programs added questions to this cycle’s application, either in anticipation of that decision or in response to that decision, and the idea of these additional questions was that they will allow schools to continue to ensure diverse classes while abiding by the Supreme Court decision. They didn’t want to get sued.
I anticipate that this trend towards questions about lived experiences, focus on resilience, and contribution to inclusive environments will continue. I would encourage applicants to make sure that they have experiences that show they are dedicated to inclusive environments. That’s going to be critical for more and more arenas. It’s already been the case for many years in medicine. I think it will be more and more so in law school, business, and almost all graduate fields.
What should applicants applying this year be doing now? [8:20]
Okay, now, let’s get to applicants for this year’s cycle. What should you be doing? It’s January. You’re not planning to apply until June if you’re talking about medical school or until September or later if you’re talking about business school, law school, and other kinds of graduate schools. Well, let’s look at three different groups in the applicant pool for next cycle, or even for this cycle because we’re going to be looking at both groups, right?
Well, if you’re already accepted to the graduate school of your dreams, congratulations, best wishes for your future success. I’m probably going to be losing you as a listener, but I do wish you well.
Pursue parallel tracks [8:56]
What if you haven’t heard back yet, or you got accepted somewhere but not the school you really want? Then I would encourage you to pursue parallel tracks. Do whatever you can do to get in this cycle. That would include preparing for your interview, and you might want to consider professional interview prep because you don’t want to make mistakes that an interview coach, such as Accepted’s consultants could coach you through, before the real thing. Basically, have a dress rehearsal. You want to be using this time to address weaknesses.
Let’s say you’re a pre-med, and you realize that your clinical experience was a little bit on the short side. I hope you’ve been beefing that up so that if you’re invited to interview you can talk about the meaningful clinical exposure that you recently had in the last six months. The same could be true of community service, or it could be true of some classes that you’ve taken and done really well in, especially if you need to do a little bit of GPA repair.
In terms of other applicants, well, we’re going to get to what kind of experience is valuable, but it could be experience related to your goals, your post-degree goals. It could be something that you will enjoy and that will make you a more interesting applicant now, Or it could be something like community service that will show the schools you are going to contribute to your community while on campus and also after, and thereby add to the school’s reputation. That goes under addressing weaknesses.
Send in relevant updates [10:22]
Another thing you can do to enhance your chances of acceptance this cycle is if schools are open to updates, send in relevant substantive updates. I am not talking about telling them what they already know and what you’ve already told them. I’m talking about something new that can add to their insight into you and add to your chances of acceptance.
With that in mind, again, if the schools are open to updates and if you have something to say to them, don’t waste their time. That’s track one. Do everything you can do to get in this cycle.
Track two, parallel tracks, right? Prepare for possible reapplication. I know that’s not what you want to hear, it’s disappointing, but you will be much better situated to apply again if you prepare for the possibility ahead of time. Again, starting early. Okay?
Prepare for possible reapplication [11:15]
When I talk about preparing for possible reapplication, the number one thing to do is to assess, analyze, and address weaknesses. Basically, try and eliminate them. Again, that will help in terms of this year’s application if you’re wait-listed, and it will help in terms of next year’s application if you’re rejected and you need to reapply. Evaluate your application for weaknesses. That could be a weakness in school alignment. In other words, you didn’t apply to the right programs. Maybe you stretched too high. It could be in terms of the presentation of your qualifications in your application. It could be in terms of your straight-out competitiveness. However alignment was more in terms of school mission. Competitiveness is more in terms of stats and just whether you are competitive at a particular program.
I’m going to get more into a possible reapplication in a couple of minutes in this podcast and give you a few hints, but I did a whole podcast you can find here.
What about applicants who know they’ve been rejected this cycle? [12:19]
What if you already know you’re rejected at all the programs for this cycle? Obviously, the first track of my parallel tracks is fairly irrelevant. If you want to pursue the goal that motivated your application in this cycle, you need to assess what went wrong and what you will change in a reapplication effort. You may need to improve your qualifications, you may need to change something about your application strategy, such as applying earlier or to more programs, or you may need to change the programs you’re applying to so that you’re applying to programs where you are competitive. If you apply to programs where you’re not competitive, you either need to improve those qualifications or apply to different programs.
Okay, a suggestion in terms of how to proceed, and I already hinted at this. Accepted does have a service called Rejection Review, where we thoroughly go through your application and provide you feedback, but you can also just sign up for that free consultation. It will not include a review of your application, but you can at least talk to a consultant and get some feedback.
Now, you’ve spent a lot of money on this failed application effort. There was a test you took, if you were required to take a test, there were also the application fees, and obviously, the time you invested in the application effort. Unless you are absolutely positive about where you went wrong, it pays to consult with expert professionals before you spend a lot more money repeating errors you made on the previous application.
Let’s say you decide it was my test score, I’m going to retake the MCAT, GMAT, GRE, or whatever, or you didn’t take it previously, and now you think you’re going to take it. Well, that’s great. That’s probably a good move. But what if you made mistakes in presenting the other parts of your background? You’re much better off knowing about it now than getting rejected again. Whatever you do, don’t plan to do exactly what you did last time. Repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity. Please, please, please don’t do that.
What should first-time applicants be doing?
Let’s focus on those of you aiming to apply in 2024 who did not apply in 2023. In other words, you’re a first-time applicant, or you applied a few years ago. Here is what you should be doing now. Again, I don’t recommend waiting.
Clarify goals and direction [14:42]
Number one, clarify your goals and direction. Again, if you’re applying to medical school, you don’t need to know whether you want to go into optometry or cardiology or dermatology or whatever, and nobody expects you to know what residency you want to go into. You might want to have some indication of whether you want to go into a specialty or primary care or research-oriented program or not, something like that. That kind of direction is good, but you don’t have to have a specific residency.
In contrast, if you’re applying to MBA programs, you really should know what function you want after your degree program and the industry in which you want to provide it, and sometimes geography can play a role in that. That’s really important. In terms of law school, I think it’s important to know how you intend to use your JD degree. Not just that it’s a foundation for something, but that you want to use it either in business in a particular way or you want to use it to practice law. You can figure out, again, what specialty you want to go into later on, but perhaps knowing if you want to do transactional law, international law, domestic, some direction within the law based on experience or study would be a good idea to have. It doesn’t have to be cast in concrete. Nobody expects that. But goals and direction are great, and now is the time to do the research necessary, both in terms of informational interviews, online research, reading, whatever it is to clarify the direction you want to take and the path you want to pursue.
Once you have that idea of the direction you want, research the programs that will help you achieve your goals and go in that direction so that you apply to the right programs for you and to programs where you are competitive. Again, it makes no sense to apply to programs unless you feel like giving donations in terms of application fees to programs you don’t have a chance of getting into.
Prepare to take the test [16:37]
The other thing I would strongly encourage you to do, if your schools require a test or strongly encourage a test, is prepare for and take the test, and realize that you might have some programs you apply to that require a test and some programs that don’t. Obviously you still have to take the test. So prepare for and take it.
Some of you may also be looking at your record and say, “My GPA dipped here, or I didn’t start off so strong, or maybe I had a bad semester or I didn’t do so well in some prerequisites.” Those things happen. It’s not uncommon. But don’t ignore it. Again, address it. The best way to address it is by showing that, today, now, you can perform in those classes where you did poorly previously. If you had a couple of bad grades in your freshman year and otherwise did great, I don’t think it’s anything to be concerned about. But the more recent the grade problems occurred, more recently that they occurred, especially if they occurred in your junior and senior years, in upper division classes that are directly relevant to the graduate study you want to pursue, the more disconcerting they are, the more problematic they are, and the more I would encourage you to take some classes that show that today you can do well and you can apply yourself in a demanding academic environment. Pre-meds, pre-health care, you frequently have post-bac programs that are a little bit less common in other fields. They are excellent ways to do that GPA repair or to enhance your academics if necessary.
Get relevant experience [18:10]
I mentioned earlier in the podcast that graduate programs also look at your experience. Do you have experience that’s relevant to the course you want to pursue? Otherwise, how do you know that’s what you want to do? It’s a very relevant question, and relevant experience – I’m overusing the word a bit something that you want to have. So what does that mean? Well, for MBA applicants, it means full-time experience that you can somehow connect to what you want to do post-MBA. For law students, it could be research and writing as an undergraduate. It could be internships over the summer. It could be working in a legal office at some point, perhaps after you graduate. But something that tells the law school you know what you’re getting into and your decision is sound, logical, rational kind of thing, and not just I-want–to-extend-college. For pre-meds, again, clinical exposure is almost mandatory. That’s just the way it is. Don’t plan on getting into medical school without having clinical exposure.
For many fields, also, schools are increasingly looking for community service in your background. It could be on campus, it could be off campus. Many times MBA programs, law programs, and medical school programs are looking for leadership responsibility somewhere in your background. I don’t mean high school, I mean post-high school. Those kinds of experiences are also very much in demand in graduate school, and it practically doesn’t matter what graduate program you’re applying to. I would say probably the more research-oriented programs focus a little less on leadership, but the more professional programs definitely want to see that.
Pursue “irrelevant experience” [19:57]
Then there’s irrelevant experience. The irrelevant experience could be working as a bartender. It could be sports, arts, drama, or performance arts. It could be painting. It could be all kinds of different things. Could be teaching Sunday School for your church or whatever faith-based organization would be relevant. Those activities may not be directly relevant to your goal, though some could show leadership. It could be a combination of community service and leadership, but they make you a more well-rounded and interesting person.
Graduate schools, in general, don’t really want nerds. Again, this is particularly true of the professional programs. The academic programs are a little less fussy in this way. But they still like to see well-rounded people who will make interesting colleagues and members of their community. Don’t be so focused on your professional or academic goals that you neglect that part of your life and your personality.
Start as soon as possible [21:00]
Now, if this sounds like a lot to do before you start filling out applications, guess what? It is! So don’t delay. Your toughest competition consists of applicants who have been preparing to apply for years in some cases, or at least months. They will be the ones who have done the GPA repair or maybe never had to do it. They’ve prepared for the test and taken it. They’ve participated in professional and co-professional activities that will make them an attractive applicant. And yes, they’ve also made time for those kinds of fun activities that just nourish the soul and make an individual into a well-rounded human being.
The best applicants lay the foundation for successful application months and sometimes years in advance of their hitting submit. And frankly, you should too. And yes, you can do the whole application process on your own, but you may just get into better schools and/or snag a scholarship with a lot less work and stress if you access the expertise of one of Accepted’s outstanding consultants. Again, as I said earlier, the initial consultation is free, and then you can choose between comprehensive packages that include advising, editing, interview prep, or just a little bit of advising, editing, or interview prep, whatever you want and whatever works best for you.
Whether you sign up for the free consultation or not, whether you use Accepted services or not, and I can’t understand why you wouldn’t want to, at least get the consultation because that’s free, and do get started today. As soon as you turn off this podcast, do it. Lay out for yourself what you need to do to position yourself to maximize your chances of acceptance.
- Free Consultation with Accepted
- Accepted’s Advising Services
- Accepted’s Rejected Grad School Application Review Package
- Rejection and Reapplication to Target Schools, podcast Episode 523
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Higher Education and What the U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision on Affirmative Action Means for Admissions, bonus podcast Episode
- What You Need to Know to Ace the GMAT (and the new GMAT Focus!), podcast Episode 534
- It’s All About Authenticity and Community in Graduate Admissions, podcast Episode 518