As always, the early admissions process is a time of excitement, waiting, and sometimes, disappointment. The roller coaster of college admissions is off and running, and we are here to analyze the ever-changing landscape of acceptance, denial, and deferral. Take an in-depth look at this year’s trends and statistics to see how you fit into the early admissions picture.

Overall Early Application Numbers

Many schools continue to see a steady rise in early application numbers each year, resulting in increased selectivity. Harvard experienced an unusually high jump in early applications over the last two years, with a 32% increase, and selectivity correspondingly dropped from 21.1 to 14.8%. Notable exceptions include Yale and Brown, which have seen a slight dip in early applications over the past two years.

Columbia University had their largest early applicant pool in school history (3,520), which was a 4.4% increase from last year. MIT, Penn, Duke, Tufts, Northwestern, and Johns Hopkins University also saw record-breaking numbers of early applicants.

The Tech reports that MIT’s increase in early applicants may be due, in part, to their new policy that international students were allowed to apply for consideration during the early action round of admissions this year.

According to Jeff Schiffman, Tulane’s Interim Admissions Director, “Tulane saw a pretty substantial increase in applications this year. Could be linked to joining the Common App, could be a number of reasons.”

Duke’s early acceptance rate of 23.5% is the lowest in the school’s early decision program history.

The following chart compares early action application numbers and acceptance rates for the class of 2020, 2019, and 2018. As a refresher, early decision (ED) is binding and mandates enrollment, single choice early action (SCEA) is restrictive but allows the student to wait until May 1 to decide, and early action (EA) is unrestrictive and non-binding. Early decision is typically associated with higher acceptance rates because the school is guaranteed enrollment, which increases the yield factor, and brings to campus students who have demonstrated a high degree of interest.

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The statistics for deferral are not as widely published as acceptance rates. According to the available information, many schools defer more than half of their early applicant pool to the regular admissions round. Notable exceptions include Stanford (9%) and Duke (19%), who deny most applicants who are not accepted; for these schools, deferral is used to indicate that your application is competitive and will be given serious consideration in the regular admissions process.

Overall, deferral rates have remained steady since 2018 or slightly decreased. One exception was Harvard, whose deferral rate rose from 68% for the Class of 2018 to 75.7% for the Class of 2020, possibly in direct relation to the significant drop in acceptance rate. Denials remained fairly constant, from an unofficial estimation of 10.9% for the Class of 2018 to 9.5% for the Class of 2020.

Princeton posted an unusually high deferral rate of 78.9% for the Class of 2018, prompting The Daily Princetonian to write several editorials urging the Admissions Office to “reduce the number of deferrals and give out more definite decisions to its early admit pool…. a clear rejection motivates applicants to invest wholeheartedly into the application processes for other universities.”

Some schools like the University of Michigan are using large numbers of deferrals to control class size as they have continued to receive increasingly large early applicant pools. According to The Michigan Daily, the University of Michigan only admitted 6,071 students to the Class of 2019, a drop of 434 students from the previous year. This paring back was sparked by administrator concern over a trend of over-enrollment. For the class of 2019, Michigan’s overall admissions rate dropped to 26.2 percent from 32.2 percent for the class of 2018.

And Michigan is continuing this approach for the Class of 2020. “Several measures — such as deferring more individuals who apply early action and waitlisting more applicants in the regular decision cycle— were instituted beginning with the class of 2019 to avoid exceeding target enrollment numbers.”

For deferred students, there are several steps you can take to increase your chances of admission in Regular Decision, including re-visiting, arranging for an additional letter of recommendation from a 12th grade teacher, and sending a follow-up letter with updates. Above all, stay positive, and continue to do your best academically. See our blog for more information.

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Higher Numbers of Diverse and International Students

Top selective colleges continue to use early admissions for the big “hooks” – underrepresented minorities, lower socioeconomic, first-generation, and international students, as well as recruited athletes, and legacies.

Colleges have successfully broadened their outreach efforts to attract a more diverse applicant pool. Over the past two years, Yale has recorded a 15% increase in early applications by minority students, and international student early applications have risen 12%. Tufts reported that overseas early applications increased by 9% this year, and that notably China had the highest numbers and rose by 18%.

Schools are receiving more diverse and international early applicants and in turn are increasing their admission percentages of these groups.

This year, Princeton reported that 42% of their admitted early applicants were U.S. students from diverse backgrounds and 11% were international students, which is up from 8% international early admissions in 2018. Dartmouth’s accepted early admissions pool includes 30% of students from diverse backgrounds (26% last year), 9% international students (8% last year), and 19% alumni legacy (same as last year). Early decision admits at Penn include 44% minority students (up from 40% last year), and 11% international students.

Michael Mills, associate provost for Northwestern University enrollment states, “We have higher numbers and percentages of underrepresented minority students. We have higher numbers and percentage of low income students than last year, and Chicago Public Schools students have been an important focus of ours.” In addition, almost 10% of Northwestern’s early decision pool is comprised of international students, which marks a nearly 25% increase from the number of international early applicants admitted last year.

Large Percentage of Incoming Freshman Class Filled with Early Applicants

Some schools continue to fill a significant portion of their incoming freshman class from the early applicant pool. This year, Brown admitted the largest early applicant cohort (669 students) since the school adopted the early decision program in 2001. Historically, Brown has filled 35-38% of its freshman class through ED, but could top 40% this year if the freshman class size remains the same.

Northwestern’s early admission cohort will make up more than 50% of the incoming class of 2020, which breaks last year’s record of 49%. Tufts’ early admissions expects to fill half of the class of 2020 through their two early decision rounds.

Penn plans for their early decision admits to comprise 54.6 percent of the target class of 2,445 students for the class of 2020, fairly steady from the 54.4% ED cohort for the class of 2019.

Unfortunately, when colleges fill such a significant portion of their freshman class through ED, the competitive pressure during Regular Decision is even more intense due to the larger numbers of applicants, and the fewer spots remaining.

 Expanding Enrollment

Some schools are increasing their freshman class sizes as part of a strategic plan to increase the size of the school and accommodate more applicants.

According to the Yale News, “Jeremiah Quinlan, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, noted that the Class of 2020 will be the last class to matriculate at Yale with the current 12 residential colleges. When two new residential colleges open their doors as scheduled in 2017, the undergraduate student body will expand for the first time in a generation, and future classes will increase by roughly 15%.”

UVA has several plans to accommodate growing class sizes, including new construction of additional first year housing which will be completed in August 2016. According to UVA Deputy Spokesperson, Matthew Charles, “The Board of Visitors and President Sullivan have authorized 105 new strategic faculty hires over the next five years in response to the expected growth in students.”

Since 2005, Princeton has enacted a plan of continued gradual expansion to increase its total undergraduates from about 4,600 to about 5,100 students. Princeton enrolled 1,308 students for the Class of 2018; this class size was slightly larger than the previously reported estimate of 1,290 because the University determined it had more capacity for the next academic year.

Stanford University also has plans to increase its undergraduate enrollment slowly over the next few years. According to the Washington Post, “Stanford University, which turns down roughly 19 out of every 20 applicants, wants to grow its entering freshman class by an estimated 100 students in the fall of 2016. That would translate to a class of about 1,800.” Stanford President, John L. Hennessy, said they will gradually expand entering classes until they reach a comfort level with their overall student population.

Washington University in St. Louis’ administrators unveiled plans to admit freshman classes at the large freshman size of the Class of 2018 (1,765 students) for the next several years until the undergraduate population reaches a total enrollment of 7,000.

Navigating the decisions of where to apply early decision or early action can be daunting, but here at Collegiate Gateway we are happy to help you decipher your options and understand the changing landscape of early admissions. Please feel free to contact us!