Admission Trends & Early Applications: Early Decision & Early Action Are Increasingly Important in Admissions

This past admissions cycle more colleges than ever experienced an increase in the number of early applications, correspondingly increasing the number of admissions offers made from the early application pool. For the most competitive colleges, like Duke and Harvard, over half the class is filled before the January 1st deadline for regular applications.

Early application programs come in two variations: 1. Early decision, in which case the student is admitted early and required to attend if accepted, 2. Early action, in which case the student is still admitted early but not required to attend if accepted. At Harvard, which uses a non-binding program for early admissions, the regular decision admission rate was 4.7%, while the early action program applicants enjoyed a 13.4% admissions rate. When looking at the most competitive schools, early decision is the most common early application option. While students must then commit to the institution and forgo the chance to entertain other college offers under this option, early decision applicants are rewarded with an acceptance rate double or triple that of their regular decision counterparts. Correspondingly, with most of the class filled before regular decision, published admissions rates (based solely on regular decision applicant pool numbers) have dropped, benefitting colleges in popular rankings like US News.

We mentioned in our blogs on 2018 trends that the number of applications to college has increased as adoption of universal applications (e.g. the Common App) eases the process of transferring application material across schools. With students being accepted to more places, yield rate for accepted students into the freshman class is at a historic low. These trends in early action and early decision should be understood within this context. Colleges are attempting to stabilize their class sizes and react to increased student yield volatility with an increased preference for high-yield applicants, including early applicants and non-traditional students like transfer students. However, each year more people realize the increasing benefit of early decision programs, with schools like Barnard and Brown seeing a 20-30% increase in early applicants in recent years. As early applications become increasingly common, the higher admissions rates enjoyed by early applicants will fall, coupled with an even lower regular admissions rate. Beyond 2019, the expectation is that early applications will not be an advantage for the informed, but the new normal for the competitive.

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