December News: Half of HS Students Use AI, Attempts to Restore Equity in Admissions, American vs European MBAs

Dec 26, 2023

Harvard Sees Drop in Early Action Admissions 

According to numbers released this week by the university, the number of students who applied to Harvard under its non-binding early action program is 17 percent lower than last year: 7,921 applicants in 2023 vs. 9,553 applicants in 2022. 692 of these applicants have been accepted. Although the drop in applicants is not insignificant, more students applied this year through the program than in 2019 (6,424 applicants). Yale University saw about a 1.5 percent increase in early action applicants this year (7,856) over last year (7,744); however, Harvard’s applicant numbers are still higher than its New Haven rivals.


Some news sources were quick to pin the drop in applications on how Harvard’s administration has handled concerns about antisemitism on campus. Although this could very well be the impetus for some students to reconsider Harvard as a top-choice school, the deadline for early action was November 4th, before much of the backlash against Harvard – the congressional hearing that led to high-profile university resignations and calls for the ouster of Harvard’s president took place on December 5th. It is important to note that this also is the first application cycle following the dissolution of affirmative action, which could be another factor in shifting numbers of applicants. Nevertheless, the drop-off is likely connected with elements of the wider political landscape and, potentially, a growing lack of confidence in college leaders.

Applications for Early Harvard Admissions Dip (NY Times) – 12/15/23

Taking the SAT or ACT Still a Prudent Choice in a Test-Optional Landscape

According to the independent college counselors and other higher education experts surveyed here, it is in a student’s best interest to aim to submit an SAT or ACT score when applying, even if they are targeting test-optional institutions. A high SAT or ACT score can still give a student a leg-up in the admissions process, helping them stand out from other applicants – and a high score can put certain students in contention for merit aid. Furthermore, with the ability to withhold lower-than-expected scores, there is no downside to testing. For international students especially, standardized tests can serve as important benchmarks, demonstrating a student’s academic qualifications to an American admissions team that could be unfamiliar with that student’s secondary school or educational system in their home country.


Although many institutions have stated that with the dropping of testing requirements their application processes will become “more holistic,” this article contends that most colleges and universities have “continued on with their admissions processes as normal.” Consequently, admissions officers are seeing an upsurge in applicants (up to four times as many) without necessarily more staff to process them. It is, thus, as important as ever for students to use all the resources available to them, including test scores, to differentiate themselves from the flood of applicants.

Should You Still Take The SAT Or ACT For “Test Optional” Colleges? (Forbes) – 12/14/23

Over 30% of Federally-Funded Colleges Consider Legacy Status in Admissions

According to data released this week from the U.S. Department of Education, 579 federally funded colleges use legacy – whether an applicant is related to an alumnus – as a metric in admissions. This means that of the 1,900 federally funded colleges that are considered “at least somewhat selective,” over 30 percent factor legacy into their decisions in building a student body. The 2022-23 academic year is the first in which the Education Department has asked about colleges’ use of legacy status.


It is important to note that the information colleges provided to the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is self-reported, so the data needs to be taken in that context. In his response to the findings, Education Secretary Miguel Cordana stated, “Access to data on legacy applicants is essential for colleges and universities reevaluating their admissions practices and working to build diverse student bodies in the wake of the Supreme Court’s disappointing ruling on affirmative action earlier this year.”

579 colleges consider legacy status, new Education Department data finds (HigherEd Dive) – 12/12/23

Nearly Half of High School Students Use AI Tools

The ACT released a report this week that 46 percent of U.S. high school students (grades 9-12) surveyed use AI tools on a combination of school and non-school assignments. The most common uses for AI in school were in language arts, social studies, and science classes, with 67 percent, 49 percent, and 37 percent of students using those tools, respectively. Chat GPT is overwhelmingly the most popular AI tool, with 87 percent of AI users having utilized the chatbot. For those who do not use AI tools, the most commonly cited reasons for not doing so are lack of interest (84 percent), lack of trust in information they provide (64 percent), and lack of knowledge about them (55 percent). Of those who use AI tools, 63 percent reported that they found errors or inaccuracies in the generated responses


Even with the proliferation of AI technology, many students remain highly skeptical, with 42 percent surveyed indicating that they think their school should ban AI tools, with only 34 percent opposed to doing so. Additionally, only 10 percent of students reported considering using AI tools to complete their college essays. Interestingly, the study also found a correlation between ACT Composite score and AI usage, with higher scoring students more likely to use AI tools. Lower-scoring students who don’t use AI tools were more likely to cite the reason for not doing so as lack of knowledge and/or access, highlighting a potential privilege-gap inherent in current AI technology, an issue that certainly merits further exploration.

Half of High School Students Already Use AI Tools (ACT Press Release) – 12/11/23

AP African American Studies Course Has Been Revised

The College Board announced in a press release this past week that it has revised the contentious AP African American Studies curriculum, which will launch in the 2024-25 school year. According to the College Board, the changes were designed to align the course content with that of corresponding college courses, maintain time for teachers and students to explore further topics, incorporate student and teacher feedback, create “a more robust source base for students to engage with an array of voices,” and improve the clarity and precision of the prose. Nearly 700 schools are currently participating in the second pilot year of the program and will be able to take the corresponding exam in Spring 2024 – those scores will be available to be sent to colleges and universities for credit consideration.


Beyond the vague language incorporated in the press release some key changes to the curriculum are listed below: 

  • The concept of “intersectionality,” the study of how various forms of discrimination overlaps, has been reinstated.
  • Critical race theory and the concept of structural racism have been omitted, but similar ideas of “systemic oppression” and “systemic marginalization” are included.
  • LGBTQIA+ issues are almost completely absent.
  • Study of the Black Lives Matter movement is an optional topic.
  • The class now requires teaching about Black feminism and police violence and now includes Colin Kapernick’s protest of police brutality.
  • The new iteration includes more material on the Tulsa Race Massacre, Black culture’s influence on entertainment and sports, and Redlining.
  • Optional readings by authors Bell Hooks, Audre Lorde, and Amiri Baraka have been reinstated.

In general, the new revisions seem to have been mostly abided by those who were critical of the College Board’s earlier perceived capitulation to outspoken conservative Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ Education Department’s criticisms. Nevertheless, the lack of focus on the Black Queer experience is distressing to some.

Neither the College Board nor the Florida Department of Education have responded to the various publications’ request for comment.

Advanced Placement Program Releases Revised African American Studies Framework (College Board Press Release) – 12/6/23

Further reading:

College Board revises AP Black studies class set to launch in 2024 (AP)

Final A.P. African American Studies Course Avoids Some Disputed Topics (NY Times)

The College Board Tries Again (The Atlantic)

Teaching BLM movement optional in updated AP African American studies class (Axios)

The College Board releases a new framework for its AP African American Studies course


Alternate Pathways to Higher Education Success

The “Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal, in which several high-profile parents paid a private admissions consultant to cheat in order to help get their students into elite colleges, is indicative of the hyper-competitiveness surrounding the college admissions process. Even though most families would never consider using unethical and unlawful means to secure their child a spot in a hyper-selective institution, conventional wisdom tells us that a more prestigious college or university will lead to greater future success, and many families put sizable pressure on their high school students to achieve perfect grades and balance an abundance of extracurricular activities. However, data points to a weaker correlation between one’s undergraduate institution and future earning potential than most people think. For example median earnings for a computer science major four years after graduation are relatively similar at Binghamton University ($114,997) and the considerably more selective Georgetown University ($126,103). Furthermore, the average history major from UCLA ($47,888) was found to make slightly less than one from the much-less sought-after Center College in Kentucky ($51,858).


For families worried about debt, stellar high school grades are not the only pathway to merit aid – 40 percent of full-time students at four-year institutions received merit aid after attaining less than a B average and under 1000 on the SAT. Furthermore, the pressure put on young adults has helped lead to a proliferation of mental health issues, including 36 percent of college students who have reported having been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. While hyper-selective colleges and universities can open many doors for students, including robust alumni networks and institutional prestige, there are numerous pathways for students to achieve future success. There are over four thousand colleges and universities in the U.S. and, for many, roads less traveled could present equally advantageous outcomes.

Why Parents Can’t Quit the Elite College Arms Race (NY Times) – 12/6/23

Non-Profit Supplements Public School Counselors: Key for Underserved Students

TeenSHARP is a non-profit company that “prepares Black, Latino, and low-income students for top colleges and community-centered leadership.” It represents a growing business of advisers that work directly with students to guide them through the often labyrinthine college admissions system. TeenSHARP and similar groups augment the support given by public school college counselors who, on average, serve more than 400 students at a given time. The personalized guidance is especially helpful in the uncertainty of the current legislative climate – students need support in navigating how they can accurately represent their experiences in their personal statements while traversing a system that is legally-bound to be race-blind. “Our goal is to figure out the game of admissions and give our students an advantage,” according to founder Atnre Alleyne. “And our job is to teach them how to play the game.”


In light of the affirmative action ban, there is still some uncertainty over how diversity on college campuses will be affected long term. Regardless, some of the students that work with TeenSHARP are not interested in working with colleges and universities with poor histories with diversity and inclusion. Consequently, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) – such as Howard University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College – are expected to see an influx of applicants in the coming years, which will thus push these schools to be even more competitive. The increased competitiveness can present significant upside for the institutions and some of the students but could create a barrier for hopeful attendees.

College advisers vow to ‘kick the door open’ for Black and Hispanic students despite affirmative action ruling (The Hechinger Report) – 12/5/23

Certificate Programs: The Future of Higher Education?

Certificate programs represent an alternate path to a four-year degree for employment in some professions, which, though currently far from the norm, could soon become a more widely accepted stepping stone to one’s career. As average job tenure looks to become shorter due to further automation, skills-based certification could prove beneficial for both applicants and employers. As of November 2022 only 41 percent of U.S.-based job postings require a four-year bachelor’s degree, and that number could be trending downward. According to LinkedIn and Indeed, the most useful certification types for being hired are as follows: computer networking, cloud computing, project management, online marketing, and sales.


With many Americans questioning the efficacy of a traditional four-year degree, certification programs could be a reasonable step forward for certain professions. That being said, a four-year degree can demonstrate to potential employers both robust general education and a level of commitment that goes beyond what can be represented with a series of certificates. Additionally, data shows that college graduates earn, on average, 65 percent more than those with only a high school degree. Time will tell if those numbers shift in the coming decades.

College Enrollment Is Down. Is Gen Z Losing Faith In A Degree? For Entrepreneurs And Others, This Might Be The Answer (Forbes) – 12/4/23

American and European MBA Programs Side-By-Side

Although there is much overlap in the education provided by American and European MBA programs, there are several key differences:

  • U.S. programs tend to last two years; most European programs – with a few notable exceptions – last 12 months; this difference in program duration also translates to a difference in cost. Additionally, a longer-duration (U.S.) program will provide a student with greater space to sculpt their post-B-school plans, whereas a more condensed (European) MBA will more accurately represent the workload of the professional environment.
  • U.S. schools offers more elective courses as programs tend to be longer.
  • European MBAs focus more on international business.
  • European MBAs tend to have more international diversity than U.S. programs, which can translate to a wider international network and exposure to campuses in other countries; meanwhile, U.S. schools tend to have alumni networks that are larger, overall.
  • European MBAs tend to attract older students with more professional experience.
  • U.S. MBAs tend to focus more on practical case studies; whereas European programs tend to fold in more of a variety of practical and theoretical learning.


Those who can make the choice of completing an MBA in the U.S. or Europe will need to navigate a variety of factors to determine which is a better fit for them. Either way, both program formats can provide engaging and challenging curriculum, wide alumni networks, and significant employment opportunities.

The 7 Key Differences Between US And European MBA Programs (Poets & Quants) – 12/1/23

Academic Preference in Admissions as Reparations for Slavery?

Scholars and legal experts are exploring the constitutional legality of a potential alternative to race-conscious admissions: giving preferential treatment in college admissions to descendents of enslaved people. Although the idea is bold, it is not without precedent. In 2016, Georgetown University began giving admissions preference to descendents of the 273 people who were enslaved by the territory that is now Maryland. Furthermore, some argue that affirmative action was initially conceived as a way to help reset the generational imbalance brought about by slavery. Could a race-neutral proposal such as this one be the future of diversity-minded admissions in America?


U.S. colleges and universities have complex relationships with race and ethnicity. Many are actively reckoning with histories of discrimination – and, for some older colleges and universities, profiting from slavery. Other than the benefit that a diverse student body has for promoting a free-exchange of ideas and preparing students for a pluralistic society, many higher education institutions see a responsibility in finding ways to champion students from historically marginalized groups. As for the courts, the question of whether reparations for the descendents of enslaved people in the form of admissions preference is race-neutral has been addressed directly. Earlier this year, during oral arguments for the Students for Fair Admissions case, conservative Justice Brett Kavanagh concluded that benefits provided to descendents of enslaved people based solely on the fact of their ancestors’ enslavement would not be considered race-based.

Affirmative Action Is Dead. How About Reparations? (Inside HigherEd) – 11/27/23

Early Decision: Affirmative Action for the Wealthy?


Early decision admissions is a practice employed by nearly 450 colleges and universities that allows students to apply to the university of their choice prior to the general admissions process – theoretically giving them a better chance of admittance but binding them to enroll if admitted. Early decision is highly beneficial for colleges and universities. Students admitted via early decision increase a school’s yield, the number of accepted students who end up enrolling, which is a key metric for admissions success. Furthermore, early decision allows institutions to select highly qualified candidates who are likely to be accepted elsewhere, without worrying about competition. This seems like a win-win situation for institutions and students, but early descion admissions has come under increased scrutiny recently, with some claiming that the practice further exacerbates the inequities present in the college admissions process.

Summary and Takeaways:

The benefits of early decision are most easily reaped by wealthy students, leading some advocates for low-income students to label the program “affirmative action for well-off students.” As admissions decisions are binding, the timing early decision often requires students to commit to enrollment before seeing financial aid packages, an impossibility for most low-income families. A 2021 analysis via the common app found that students from the wealthiest zip codes were twice as likely to apply via early decision than those in all other zip codes. Moreover, applying early decision has a marked effect on a student’s chance of admission – at Brown in 2020, for example, the regular admissions acceptance rate was 4 percent compared to a significantly higher 18 percent for early decision admissions. This data, it is worth noting, is not completely conclusive, as it is plausible that a greater number of qualified students are applying early.

In the wake of affirmative action being deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court this summer, stakeholders have been scrambling to find ways to adjust the college admissions process to ensure the greatest equity. Legacy preference in admissions is opposed by most Americans and is a clear candidate for reform, but it would not be surprising to see early decision under even greater scrutiny in the coming admission cycles.

‘Affirmative action for well-off students’: Why early decision is under fire (HigherEd Dive) – 11/27/23

Pomona College Becomes Permanently Test-Optional

Pomona College – an extremely selective California private liberal arts college that is sometimes referred to as a “hidden Ivy” – recently announced that it will permanently lift standardized test requirements as part of its admissions process. Pomona adopted a temporary test-optional policy during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was extended through 2024. The permanent test-optional policy was instituted after a November faculty vote; Pomona will still accept test scores from applicants.


Pomona College joins a growing list of other institutions that have made permanent their provisional COVID-era test-optional policies. Many schools, including high profile private liberal arts colleges such as Swarthmore, Amherst, and Williams, have yet to announce how they will navigate standard-test requirements once their provisional policies expire, but, currently the list of colleges and universities that require SATs or ACTs (or CLTs) as part of their admissions process is small – although it contains such high profile names as Georgetown and MIT.

Pomona College Makes Test-Optional Admissions Policy Permanent (11/15/23) – Pomona College Press Release

Written by

Zachary Adler
Author Image Since 2010, Zach has been helping students achieve their college readiness goals, specializing in all sections of the SAT, ACT, PSAT, and SHSAT. Prior to joining Onsen, Zach worked for a global investment firm, as well as in various roles in the education space. He has served as a youth mentor and has run college readiness information sessions for students in under-resourced communities. Additionally, Zach is a writer and filmmaker. He is an International Baccalaureate scholar and a graduate of Boston University.

About Onsen

Onsen offers private, personlized test preparation with master tutors for the U.S admissions tests. Our SAT tutoring methods alleviate stress so students can achieve their highest scores.

Learn how we can help