In recent years, the percentage of students applying Early Decision and Early Action to American colleges and universities has steadily risen, often outstripping the overall rise in applications. This change has occurred as more applicants realize the potential admissions benefits offered by early applications, ramping up competition for these spots.
At some of the most selective schools, early applications seem to have plateaued after spiking during the prior two admission cycles. Although Harvard and Yale received more early applications this year than last year, those numbers are still lower than the sky-high peaks they saw during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. And, of course, their admission rates for Early and Regular Decision remain extremely low.
The real story, then, is at the next tier of highly selective schools, where the Early Decision round is becoming increasingly competitive as each year passes. Duke University, for instance, had an Early Decision admission rate of only 16.5%, a precipitous drop from the 21.3% admission rate for Early Decision applicants last year. Similarly, Brown University saw a 10% increase in Early Decision applications, and as a result, their acceptance rate in the Early Decision round dropped to 12.9% for the Class of 2027, down from nearly 15% the year before.
The story continues further down the rankings, too. Tufts University experienced a 6% increase in Early Decision applications, part of an overall 37% increase in early applications over the past three years; their admission rate has fallen dramatically. The University of Virginia received almost 700 additional Early Decision applications this year compared to last year, for the same relatively small number of spots. Emory University’s Early Decision pool increased by 10%; Barnard College’s has increased by more than 20% in the last two years.
So, what does this mean? For one thing, at the vast majority of schools, Early Decision is still a better bet than Regular Decision from a purely probabilistic standpoint. Although the early round is becoming more competitive, universities like Brown and Tufts would still prefer to take as much of their class as possible through Early Decision, as doing so helps to protect their yield and avoid the uncertainty of selecting students from the Regular Decision pool. As such, if a school is a student’s clear top choice, it’s still best to apply Early Decision and not take the risk of applying Regular Decision.
Indeed, the rising competition in the Early Decision round will likely make it more important than ever that students use that card effectively. The more qualified applications colleges get in the Early Decision round, the more of their class they can fill, effectively using Regular Decision to fill whatever is left of their class, as needed. For instance, Boston University admitted half of its current freshman class through Early Decision. The numbers were similar at Penn (51%) and Barnard (61%), and many similar schools. Such practices leave very few spots for the thousands of students who apply in the Regular Decision round!
What does this mean for you? Above all, it means that if you can apply Early Decision, you should do so—and you should choose an ED school where you have a strong chance of admission, given the increasing competitiveness of the Regular Decision round. If you’d like to learn more about how to identify your best-fit college, give us a call!
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