Why “Early” School Choice Continues to be Critical To Admissions Success

Now more than ever before, colleges and universities are filling the majority of their freshmen classes via early admission programs. Unfortunately, this means applying early is a must at many selective schools, as regular decision admit rates are at all-time lows. Why? A recent article via Applerouth notes:

College admissions officers love early applicants, and not just because they tend to be among the best and the brightest. Remember, a college admissions officer has one goal: to enroll bright, dedicated students who are passionate about attending their school. From their perspective, early action and early decision candidates are a safer bet than regular admissions candidates – especially in restricted early action and early decision schools. A student who applies early is less likely to be “shopping around” or considering multiple schools. Early decision, in particular, is a guaranteed enrollment for an admissions officer, and that helps the college’s yield rate – the percent of accepted students who choose to enroll in a given college.

But as the article also points out, early admit rates are going down, not up. Why?

The pool of early applicants is getting bigger. Regular deadlines have passed, and many colleges are reporting record-breaking applicant pools for the class of 2022: Princeton saw a 14% increase this year in applications, while Penn saw a 10% increase and UVA’s numbers hit an all-time high for the third year in a row. Early application numbers are up as well, as students try to reserve their spot by getting in early. A rise in application numbers means a rise in competition across the board.

However, keep in mind:

Although schools are reporting lower acceptance rates for early applicants, students who apply early still have a better chance at acceptance than they do in the regular admissions period.

Hopefully, these numbers encourage you to choose your early school(s) wisely and perhaps err on the side of caution. More final numbers from this admissions season will be out soon. In the meantime, here are some numbers from a 2017 article on the same topic. Still very relevant, and help paint the picture:

Colorado College accepted 87% of its class through early admissions programs (they have ED and EA). Although hard to believe, the regular decision admission rate at Colorado College was just 5% this year. For students applying ED, the admit rate was 26%.

The story is not much different at Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt accepts about 53% of its 1600 freshmen through its EDI and EDII programs.  This past admissions cycle, students who applied to Vanderbilt EDI or EDII had a 23.6% admit rate. Students who applied during the regular admissions cycle had an admit rate of just 2.7%.

Regular Decision candidates didn’t fare much better at Tulane, either.

Lindsay Hoyt, Assistant Director of Admissions at Tulane, said during a presentation in San Antonio that the university’s inaugural ED year was “successful” for the admissions office. She estimated that Tulane’s incoming first-year class for 2021 would have around 1470 total students, just 50 of whom had not applied either ED or EA.  

I often advise students (and their parents) to not “waste” their early decision card. It is not because I don’t want students to pursue their dream college—I do, but this can often wait until graduate school. It’s because they may end up at a school that is far less selective than their profile warrants solely because RD is nearly impossible today.

Here’s an example. Your top choice is Harvard. You have all A’s, a 34 ACT, 2-3 subject tests that are above 750, a strong but standard profile (which is most applicants), and attend a well-known competitive high school. You are not a recruited athlete, legacy, or underrepresented minority student. Harvard is a reach for you; I would advise you not to apply as your chances are going to be much greater elsewhere. You apply anyway and are rejected (or worse, deferred, which almost never works out!).

Your sights are still set on an Ivy, so you end up applying to them all RD, plus Stanford, and Emory, Rice, JHU, Vanderbilt, and Duke. In the best case scenario, you get into Emory and *maybe* (with a bit of luck) get into Cornell, JHU, Rice, Vandy or Duke—but there are no guarantees for you at those schools RD. Chances are you’ll get into at least one, but you could not get into any of them depending on how the early round played out at your high school. If it was a bloodbath (this sometimes happens), you could get shut out of all these schools because competition RD will be that much greater at your high school. A smart option would be to apply somewhere ED II (UChicago and Tufts = great choices).

When you have to apply during RD, you need to cast a very wide net. You need to throw in some schools that are safe bets from your high school, and this means safety schools. Apply to your state school early just in case, or if you apply ED, pair that app with as many “match” EA’s as you can so you can avoid relying on RD. If you have a top choice on your list that has ED II, highly consider that option if you do not get into your first choice early.

Contact us to learn more about our college counseling services, and how we can work together to choose your early school(s) wisely!

 

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