As the pool of applicants increases and schools continue to expand admissions options, applying early has become a game of strategic calculations and daunting choices for students. This year alone, many schools saw sharp increases in early applications and most schools experienced a drop in admit rates.

By now, 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 Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Duke, Johns Hopkins, MITPennUVA, 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 Barnard (24%), Washington University in St. Louis (70%) Boston College (54%), Brown (21%), Connecticut College (25%-EDI), Duke (19%), Notre Dame (17%), NYU (41%-EDI) and UVA (17%). Rising applications have also led to dipping acceptance rates. Many schools accepted record-low rates of early applicants, including Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Penn, Princeton, and Yale.

WashingtonU’s dramatic 70% increase in early apps this year includes applications from both both ED1 and ED2 and the school filled 60% of the incoming class through early admissions. This was likely due to the fact that this was the first year that they offered an ED2 option.

Boston College’s exceptional increase of 54% early applications was likely due to a change in admissions policy whereby students could apply early action to BC, as well as early decision elsewhere. In the past, applicants applying early decision, could not apply early action to BC. Interestingly, Boston College recently announced that it is switching its early admissions program for the Class of 2024 from early action to early decision.

John Mahoney, BC’s vice provost for enrollment management, explained that the ease of applying to many colleges through the Common Application creates issues for admissions offices at highly-selective colleges where it becomes more difficult to evaluate the growing number of applications. According to Grant Gosselin, director of undergraduate admissions, “While the change will likely suppress overall application volume, it will help to improve selectivity and yield by enabling students to commit to BC through the two rounds of binding Early Decision.” Early Decision 1 will have an application deadline of November 1, with decision notification by December 15. Early Decision 2 will have a January 1 application deadline and February 15 notification date. These dates are consistent with most Early Decision and Early Action rounds.

On the other hand, Georgetown experienced a 7% decrease in early applications. The Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Charles Deacon says, “Fewer students applied to Georgetown this cycle due in part to pressures from peer schools to apply through binding early admission programs. These binding early admission programs, which stipulate that students must attend if admitted, benefit universities more than students.”

Georgetown will continue to stand by its nonbinding early action program. “It is reasonable for students with outstanding records to be able to get an early answer, but we also believe that a lot happens during the course of their senior year of high school, so our motto has been we want you to be as sure in May as you were in November,” Deacon said.

Many schools with Early Decision programs also continue to fill almost half or more of their incoming class from the early applicant pool, including Boston University (40%), Bowdoin (nearly 50%) Dartmouth (47.8%), Duke (51%), Middlebury (41%), Northwestern (53%), and Penn (53%). 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 2023, 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 results in a class comprised of students who have demonstrated a high degree of interest.


Early Admissions Statistics for a Sampling of Selective Colleges



Early Apps

Class of 2023

Early Apps

Class of 2022

Early Apps

Class of 2021

Early Apps

Class of 2020

Early Apps

Class of 2019

Early Apps

Class of 2018

% Increase in EA/ED Apps 2018-2023
Brown University (ED) 4,230 3,502 3,186 3,030 3,043 3,088 37%
Cornell University (ED) 6,159 6,319 5,384 4,882 4,560 4,775 29%
Dartmouth College (ED) 2,474 2,270 1,999 1,927 1,859 1,678 47.4%
Duke University (ED) 4,852 4,090 3,516 3,455 3,180 3,180 52.6%
Georgetown University (REA) 7,802 8,387 7,822 7,027 6,840 6,749 15.6%
Harvard University (SCEA) 6,958 6,630 6,473 6,173 5,919 4,692 48.3%
Johns Hopkins University (ED) 2,068 2,037 1,934 1,929 1,865 1,595 29.6%
Middlebury College (ED) 654 650 673 636 667 686 -4.6%
MIT (EA) 9,600 9,557 8,394 7,767 6,519 6,820 40.8%
Northwestern University (ED) 4,399 4,058 3,736 3,022 2,793 2,863 53.6%
Princeton University (SCEA) 5,335 5,402 5,003 4,229 3,850 3,854 38.4%
Stanford University (REA) n/a n/a n/a 7,822 7,297 6,948 12.5% since 2016
University of Notre Dame (REA) 7,334 6,598 6,020 5,321 4,700* 6,551 56% since REA began in 2015
University of Pennsylvania (ED) 7,110 7,074 6,147 5,762 5,489 5,149 38.1%
Williams College (ED) n/a n/a 728 585 593 554 31.4% since 2017
Yale University (SCEA) 6,016 5,733 5,086 4,662 4,693 4,750 26.6%

*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 the fall 2018, Stanford will no longer publish any admissions data.

*As of 2017, Williams ceased releasing their early decision stats.


School Acceptance Rate, Class of 2023 Acceptance Rate, Class of 2022 Acceptance Rate, Class of 2021 Acceptance Rate, Class of 2020 Acceptance Rate, Class of 2019 Acceptance Rate, Class of 2018

Percent Point (PP) Difference in EA/ED Acceptance Rate


Brown University (ED) 18.2% 21.1% 21.9% 22% 20.3% 18.8% -0.6 pp
Cornell University (ED) 22.6% 24.4% 25.8% 27.4% 26.1% 27.7% -5.1 pp
Dartmouth College (ED) 23.2% 24.9% 27.8% 26% 26% 27.9% -4.7 pp
Duke University (ED) 18% 21.4% 24.5% 23.5% 26% 25% -7 pp
Georgetown University (REA) 11.8% 11.9% 11.9% 13% 13% 14% -2.2 pp
Harvard University (SCEA) 13.4% 14.5% 14.5% 14.8% 16.5% 21.1% -7.7 pp
Johns Hopkins University (ED) 31% 29.9% 30.5% 30.3% 28.9% 33% -2 pp
Middlebury College (ED) 45.4% 50.1% 51% 53.1% 42% 41.8% 3.6 pp
MIT (EA) 7.4% 6.9% 7.8% 8.4% 9.6% 9% -1.6 pp
Northwestern University (ED) 25% 26.5% 26% 35% 36.2% 32.3% -7.3 pp
Princeton University (SCEA) 13.9% 14.7% 15.4% 18.5% 19.9% 18.5% -4.6 pp
Stanford University (REA) n/a n/a n/a 9.5% 10.2% 10.8%

-1.3 pp

since 2016

University of Notre Dame (REA) 20.1% 24.8% 24.4% 30.2% 29.8%* 29.9% -9.7 pp since REA began in 2015
University of Pennsylvania (ED) 18% 18.5% 22% 23.2% 24% 25.2% -7.2 pp
Williams College (ED) n/a n/a 35% 42% 41% 42.8% -7.8 pp since 2017
Yale University (SCEA) 13.2% 14.7% 17.1% 17% 16% 15.5% -2.3 pp

*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 the fall 2018, Stanford will no longer publish any admissions data.

*As of 2017, Williams ceased releasing their early decision stats.

Deferral 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 Early Apps Deferred for Class of 2023 Early Apps Deferred for Class of 2022 Early Apps Deferred for Class of 2021 Early Apps Deferred for Class of 2020 Early Apps Deferred for Class of 2019 Early Apps Deferred for Class of 2018
Brown University (ED) n/a n/a 60% 63% 65% n/a
Cornell University (ED) 24.3% n/a 20.9% 23.6% 20% n/a
Duke University (ED) 18.6% 21.5% 20% 19% 19% 22%
Georgetown University (REA) 88.2%* 88.1%* 88.1%* 87% 87% 86%
Harvard University (SCEA) n/a 72.7% n/a 75.7% 72.5% 68%
Middlebury College (ED) 12.4% 6% 9% 11.6% 12% 14%
MIT (EA) 64.4% 65% 69.7% 61.5% 68.4% 66.5%
Princeton University (SCEA) n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 78.9%
Stanford University (REA) n/a n/a n/a 9% 7.7% 8.5%
University of Notre Dame (REA) 19% n/a 14.8% 15.4% 17% 13.7%
Yale University (SCEA) 56% 55% 53% 53% 57% 58%

*Georgetown defers all students who are not accepted early action.

*Stanford last released early admissions stats in 2016. As of the fall 2018, Stanford will no longer publish any admissions data.


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. Additionally, fewer colleges are requiring Subject Tests. Over 1,000 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 ForestSmith, and Bowdoin.

Several others, including NYUMiddlebury, 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.

On June 14, 2018, the University of Chicago launched its UChicago Empower Initiative, which included a test-optional policy in the hopes of increasing accessibility for first-generation and low-income applicants. The University of Chicago joins a small group of highly-selective national universities, with test-optional or test-flexible policies, which includes Wake Forest, University of Rochester, Brandeis, and NYU.

Finally, more colleges are allowing students to self-report testing, 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 (44%), Cornell (39.8%), Dartmouth (33%), Duke (46%), Harvard (50%), Princeton (50%), and Penn (48%). 54% of Northwestern’s early admits are underrepresented minorities or international students.

Legacy is another major factor, and schools accepting large numbers of early applicants with a family history of attending the school include Cornell (21.1%), Dartmouth (20%), Princeton (15%), and Penn (23%). 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 (12.3%), Dartmouth (11%), Harvard (11%), Princeton (10%), and Penn (13%).

Harvard admitted more women this year through early admissions (51.3%) versus last year (47.2%). Of these female admits, high percentages indicated interest in majoring in computer science or physical sciences.

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.

Notable Moments in Early Admissions for the Class of 2023

  • Harvard has been in the news for a lawsuit which alleges that it unfairly discriminates against Asian-American applications and sets racial caps.
  • Alumnus Michael Bloomberg donated $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins University, which is the largest gift ever given to a U.S. college or university. This fall, Johns Hopkins announced that it will use the gift to provide more comprehensive financial aid packages for undergraduates, including eliminating loans for domestic students.
  • In the fall of 2018, Stanford announced that itwill no longer publish any admissions data, in an effort to de-emphasize admissions rates at U.S. colleges and universities. In the fall of 2016, Stanford filled 35% of the class of 2021 from the early applicant pool.

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!