As the pool of early applicants increases and schools continue to expand early admissions options, applying early has become a game of strategic calculations and daunting choices for students. This year alone, early applications rose by over 10% at many highly-selective schools. In turn, more applications have led to greater selectivity.
By now, most students have received their early admissions decisions and are either overjoyed by acceptance, disappointed with rejection, or stuck waiting with a deferral. Whatever your early admissions outcomes, it is important to have an open mind and to maintain faith in the process of finding your “best-fit” school. In this blog, we have put together an in-depth analysis of this year’s trends and statistics.
Overall Early Application Trends
It was another record-breaking year, as many schools, including Dartmouth, Georgetown, MIT, Penn, UVA, and Yale, received their highest number of early applications yet. This trend points to the pressure placed on students to demonstrate interest by applying early and hopefully benefit from slightly higher early admit rates (compared to regular admit rates).
Schools that saw a double-digit bump in early apps this year include Brown (10%), Cornell (17.4%), Dartmouth (13.5%), Duke (16.3%), MIT (13.9%), Penn (15%), and Yale (13%). Rising applications have also led to dipping acceptance rates. Schools that accepted record-low rates of early applicants include Duke (21%), MIT (6.9%), and Penn (18.5%).
Many schools with Early Decision programs also continue to fill almost half or more of their incoming class from the early applicant pool, including Dartmouth (47%), Duke (51%), Middlebury (45%), Northwestern (50%), and Penn (55%). The binding Early Decisions admissions plan benefits accepted students, who know where they will attend by December; and benefits the colleges in terms of controlling their yield (number of admitted students who choose to enroll).
Public universities do not typically release their early application data, but US News notes that in general applications at top public universities are on the rise and, therefore, their acceptance rates are dropping. Affordability and quality may be attracting more and more students, and public institutions are marketing to high-performing applicants.
Overall Early Application Numbers
The following chart compares early admissions application numbers and acceptance rates for the class of 2022, 2021, 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 1st 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.
Early Admissions Statistics for a Sampling of Selective Colleges
|School||Class of 2022||Class of 2021||Class of 2020||Class of 2019||Class of 2018||% Increase in EA/ED Apps 2018-2022|
|Brown University (ED)||3,502||3,186||3,030||3,043||3,088||13.4%|
|Cornell University (ED)||6,319||5,384||4,882||4,560||4,775||32.3%|
|Dartmouth College (ED)||2,270||1,999||1,927||1,859||1,678||35.2%|
|Duke University (ED)||4,090||3,516||3,455||3,180||3,180||28.6%|
|Georgetown University (REA)||8,383||7,822||7,027||6,840||6,749||24.2%|
|Harvard University (SCEA)||6,630||6,473||6,173||5,919||4,692||41.3%|
|Johns Hopkins University (ED)||2,037||1,934||1,929||1,865||1,595||27.7%|
|Middlebury College (ED)||650||673||636||667||686||-5.2%|
|Northwestern University (ED)||4,058||3,736||3,022||2,793||2,863||41.7%|
|Princeton University (SCEA)||5,402||5,003||4,229||3,850||3,854||40.2%|
|Stanford University (REA)||n/a||n/a||7,822||7,297||6,948||12.5% since 2016|
|University of Notre Dame (REA)||6,598||6,020||5,321||4,700*||6,551||40.4% since REA began in 2015|
|University of Pennsylvania (ED)||7,074||6,147||5,762||5,489||5,149||37.4%|
|Williams College (ED)||n/a||728||585||593||554||31.4% since 2017|
|Yale University (SCEA)||5,733||5,086||4,662||4,693||4,750||20.7%|
*Notre Dame changed its early admissions program from Early Action to Restrictive Early Action in 2015.
*Stanford last released early admissions stats in 2016. As of 2017, all admissions results are published at the end of the admissions cycle.
*This year, Williams did not release their early decision stats yet.
Class of 2022
Class of 2021
Class of 2020
Class of 2019
Class of 2018
Percent Point (pp) Difference
|Brown University (ED)||21.1%||21.9%||22%||20.3%||18.8%||2.3pp|
|Cornell University (ED)||24.3%||25.8%||27.4%||26.1%||27.7%||-3.4pp|
|Dartmouth College (ED)||24.9%||27.8%||26%||26%||27.9%||-3pp|
|Duke University (ED)||21.4%||24.5%||23.5%||26%||25%||-3.6pp|
|Georgetown University (REA)||11.9%||11.9%||13%||13%||14%||-2pp|
|Harvard University (SCEA)||14.5%||14.5%||14.8%||16.5%||21.1%||-6.6pp|
|Johns Hopkins University (ED)||29.9%||30.5%||30.3%||28.9%||33%||-3.1pp|
|Middlebury College (ED)||50.1%||51%||53.1%||42%||41.8%||8.3pp|
|Northwestern University (ED)||n/a||26%||35%||36.2%||32.3%||-6.3pp since 2017|
|Princeton University (SCEA)||14.7%||15.4%||18.5%||19.9%||18.5%||-3.7pp|
|Stanford University (REA)||n/a||n/a||9.5%||10.2%||10.8%||
|University of Notre Dame (REA)||24.8%||24.4%||30.2%||29.8%||29.9%||-5pp since REA began in 2015|
|University of Pennsylvania (ED)||18.5%||22%||23.2%||24%||25.2%||-6.7pp|
|Williams College (ED)||n/a||35%||42%||41%||42.8%||-7.8pp since 2017|
|Yale University (SCEA)||14.7%||17.1%||17%||16%||15.5%||-0.8pp|
*Notre Dame changed its early admissions program from Early Action to Restrictive Early Action in 2015.
*Northwestern Univ. has not yet released their acceptance rate for the ED class of 2022.
*Stanford last published early admissions stats in 2016. As of 2017, all admissions results are published at the end of the admissions cycle.
*Williams has not yet released this year’s early decision stats.
Deferral rates are not as widely published as acceptance rates. However, available information shows that many schools defer more than half of their early applicant pool to the regular admissions round.
Notable exceptions include Duke, Middlebury, Northwestern, Notre Dame, and Stanford, who deny most applicants who are not accepted in the early round. For these schools, deferral is used to indicate that your application is competitive and will be given serious consideration in the regular admissions process.
Some schools, like the University of Michigan, use large numbers of deferrals to control class size as they have continued to receive increasingly large early applicant pools. Some colleges defer especially strong candidates who may view the college as a “safe” school, wait to see if the student withdraws the application based on acceptance by more selective colleges, and then may accept the student late-January through March.
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.
Percent of Early Apps Deferred for Recent Classes
|School||Class of 2022||Class of 2021||Class of 2020||Class of 2019||Class of 2018|
|Brown University (ED)||n/a||60%||63%||65%||n/a|
|Cornell University (ED)||n/a||20.9%||23.6%||20%||n/a|
|Duke University (ED)||21.5%||20%||19%||19%||22%|
|Georgetown University (REA)||88.1%*||88.1%*||87%||87%||86%|
|Harvard University (SCEA)||72.7%||n/a||75.7%||72.5%||68%|
|Middlebury College (ED)||6%||9%||11.6%||12%||14%|
|Princeton University (SCEA)||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a||78.9%|
|Stanford University (REA)||n/a||n/a||9%||7.7%||8.5%|
|University of Notre Dame (REA)||n/a||14.8%||15.4%||17%||13.7%|
|Yale University (SCEA)||55%||53%||53%||57%||58%|
*Georgetown defers all students who are not accepted early action.
There is a trend towards more standardized testing flexibility in college admissions. More small liberal arts colleges have become test-optional, and more schools, such as Penn, now super-score the ACT/SAT. Also, increasingly, colleges are not requiring Subject Tests. Over 925 colleges and universities have decided that standardized test scores are not as predictive of academic success in college as the day-to-day academic performance reflected by a high school GPA. Current test-optional colleges include Wake Forest, Smith, and Bowdoin.
Several others, including NYU, Middlebury, and Hamilton fall under the category of “test-flexible,” meaning that applicants have the option to submit alternative college entrance examinations, such as SAT Subject, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate examinations in place of SAT and ACT scores.
It is interesting to note that of the 50 highest-ranked national universities, only four have test-optional or test-flexible policies, including Wake Forest, University of Rochester, Brandeis, and NYU, whereas 21 of the top-ranked liberal arts universities offer such testing options. One possible reason is that to attract applicants, the national universities rely more on US News & World Report’s rankings, which factor in test scores. In addition, small liberal arts universities are typically more holistic in their evaluations of candidates.
Finally, more colleges are allowing students to self-report testing, and then only requiring them to send their testing to the school they commit to. For more information about current trends in test-optional and test-flexible policies, read our blog.
Increased Diversity Continues to be a Priority
Many of the most 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. Schools with a high percentage of students who self-identify as students of color include Brown (38%), Cornell (37%), Dartmouth (33%), Duke (40%), Harvard (49.7%), Princeton (44%), Penn (43%),
Legacy is another major factor, and schools accepting large numbers of early applicants with a family history of attending the school include Cornell (22%), Dartmouth (16%), Princeton (17%), and Penn (25%). In the Ivy League, Penn has the highest rate of legacy acceptances, and recently the Daily Pennsylvanian wrote an article exploring the benefits and drawbacks of this policy.
International early admits continues to grow, despite the political climate in the United States. Universities with high international early acceptances include Cornell (14.3%), Dartmouth (10%), Princeton (11%), and Penn (12%).
Yale has made increasing diversity an institutional priority and according to Director of Outreach and Communications, Mark Dunn, their efforts have included mailing campaigns to high-achieving low-income students, the Yale Ambassadors Program, and the Multicultural Open House.
If you applied early to a highly selective college and do not fall into one of these categories, consider the even higher odds that you are up against in seeking early admission.
Colleges Marketing and Recruiting Students after Early Acceptance
Many colleges are reaching out to students in new ways to increase early applications and foster a connection to the schools that will result in higher enrollment and yield. Dartmouth points to a connection between higher applications and its new initiative of recruitment, programming activities, and communications narrative. Also, almost every Dartmouth early applicant was paired with an alumni interviewer (of which there are 5,100) through the Admissions Ambassador Program.
Harvard uses comprehensive recruiting efforts which include 10,000 alumni who go to college nights, interview candidates, host admit parties, and contact admitted students. Harvard also asks its staff to write personal letters, make phone calls, connect through social media, and meet with accepted students.
Remarkably, Georgetown’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, Charles Deacon, finds it difficult to explain the spikes in early applications over the past two years as the result of any planned initiative. Deacon says, “It’s really hard to pinpoint precisely why. We haven’t done anything unusual to make that happen.” He suggests that Georgetown’s location in Washington, D.C., and its excellent programs in government, public policy and foreign service, may be increasing its draw in conjunction with the political climate following President Trump’s election.
Notable Moments in Early Admissions for the Class of 2022
- Many schools, including Penn, extended early application deadlines for students affected by natural disasters this year.
- Brown’s accepted early decision cohort includes 430 females and 308 males.
- Stanford will not release early admissions statistics for the Class of 2022 until the end of the admissions cycle. Last year, Stanford filled 35% of the class of 2021 from the early applicant pool.
- There is more variety in application materials, including videos. For example, Goucher still accepts the Common Application, but also provides the option to submit the Goucher Video App.
- Following Trump’s presidential election, there has been a movement among college admissions directors to recruit white students from low-income, rural areas (Inside Higher Ed).
Deciding whether and where to apply early 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!