It was another exciting year in regular decision college admissions! As a follow-up to our previous blog on Early Admissions Trends for the Class of 2021, here’s an in-depth review of this year’s regular decision trends. To assist applicants who will be applying this fall, our analysis will conclude with a helpful list of tips for crafting your “best-fit” college list.
Rising Applicant Numbers, Lower Acceptance Rates
This year, regular decision acceptance rates tended to either hold steady or drop slightly. As in past years, highly sought-after private and public universities continue to receive more and more applications, offer lower admit rates, and fill more of their freshman class through early admissions.
Many schools had a record-breaking year of applications, including Brown, Georgetown, Northwestern, Princeton, UVA, and Washington University in St. Louis. WashU has seen a 4% increase in applicants since last year and a 28% rise since 2008.
Many of the country’s most selective institutions (with overall admit rates already under 15%) became even more competitive over the past three years. For example, Duke dropped from 11% to 9%, Northwestern fell from 12.9% to 9%, Swarthmore declined from 16.8% to 10.2%, and Williams decreased from 18.2% to 14.6%. Stanford has the lowest admit rate at just 4.6%.
This year, Brown, Cornell, Duke, Princeton, Stanford, and UPenn all reported record-low admit rates. Over the past ten years, Swarthmore has experienced a 59% increase in applications and only a 7% increase in acceptances, which has led to their declining acceptance rates. Michael Mills, Associate Provost for Northwestern University enrollment, said the highly-selective process of applying to elite colleges and universities can cause stressed-out high school students to send out more applications. Increased applications, in turn, make admissions even more selective, further feeding the cycle.
According to Richard Shaw, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Stanford University, these ultra-low admit rates are the product of several factors, including top students applying to many more schools, and higher demand across several demographics (including international applicants). Beyond the simple fact that high school graduation rates have been steadily increasing, U.S. News also attributes higher applicant numbers to the Common Application and other online admissions processes, which most schools have adopted. Universities also use innovative ways to market themselves to prospective applicants, especially through social media.
Early vs. Regular Acceptance Rates for the Class of 2019 through 2021
|College||Regular Acceptance Rate for Class of 2021*||Early Acceptance Rate for Class of 2021||Regular Acceptance Rate for Class of 2020*||Early Acceptance Rate for Class of 2020||Regular Acceptance Rate for Class of 2019*||Early Acceptance Rate for Class of 2019|
|Amherst College (ED)||n/a||n/a||12.2%||39.6%||12.4%||35.6%|
|Bowdoin College (ED I)||n/a||25%||11.6%||33.7%||n/a||31%|
|Brown University (ED)||6.8%||21.9%||7.6%||22%||7.2%||20.3%|
|Claremont McKenna College (ED)||8%||31%||7%||n/a||9%||27%|
|Columbia University (ED)||Only releases overall acceptance rates, not early and regular admissions rate data.|
|Cornell University (ED)||10.8%||25.6%||12.5%||27.4%||13.7%||26.2%|
|Dartmouth College (ED)||8.5%||27.8%||8.9%||26%||8.8%||26%|
|Duke University (ED)||7.3%||24.5%||8.7%||23.5%||9.4%||26%|
|Georgetown University (REA)||17.4%||11.9%||n/a||13%||n/a||13%|
|Harvard University (SCEA)||3.4%||14.7%||3.4%||14.8%||3.2%||16.5%|
|Johns Hopkins University (ED)||10.3%||30.5%||10.1%||30.3%||11%||28.9%|
|Middlebury College (ED I)||16.7%||51%||12.7%||53.1%||14.7%||45.3%|
|Northwestern University (ED)||7.2%||26%||8.4%||35%||10.8%||36.2%|
|Pomona College (ED)||6.8%||21%||n/a||19.4%||n/a||19%|
|Princeton University (SCEA)||4.3%||15.4%||4.4%||18.5%||4.9%||19.9%|
|Rice University (ED)||n/a||21%||15%||23%||15.6%||20.4%|
|Stanford University (SCEA)||n/a**||n/a**||3.6%||9.5%||3.9%||10.2%|
|University of Notre Dame (REA)||15.7%||24.4%||13.8%||30.3%||16.2%||29.8%|
|University of Chicago (EA)||Only releases overall acceptance rates, not early and regular admissions rate data.|
|University of Pennsylvania (ED)||6.8%||22%||7%||23.2%||7.5%||24%|
|University of Virginia (EA)||24.6%||29%||28.8%||28.9%||26.6%||30.2%|
|Vanderbilt University (ED)||8.6%||23.6%||8.8%||23.6%||9.5%||22.5%|
|Washington Univ. in St. Louis (ED)||Only releases overall acceptance rate, not give early and regular admissions rate data.|
|Williams College (ED)||12.7%||35%||15%||42%||14.5%||41%|
|Yale University (SCEA)||5%||17.1%||4.4%||17%||4.7%||16%|
*Regular admission acceptance rate calculations do not include early admission deferral numbers.
** In a break from tradition, Stanford did not release early admissions statistics.
Overall Acceptance Rates for the Class of 2018 through 2021
|College||Overall Acceptance Rate for Class of 2021||Overall Acceptance Rate for Class of 2020||Overall Acceptance Rate for Class of 2019||Overall Acceptance Rate for Class of 2018|
|Amherst College (ED)||n/a||13.7%||13.7%||13%|
|Bowdoin College (ED I)||13.4%||14.3%||14.9%||14.9%|
|Brown University (ED)||8.3%||9%||8.5%||8.6%|
|California Institute of Technology (EA)||n/a||7.9%||9%||9%|
|Claremont McKenna College (ED)||10.4%||9.4%||11%||10%|
|Columbia University (ED)||5.8%||6%||6.1%||6.94%|
|Cornell University (ED)||12.5%||14%||14.9%||14%|
|Dartmouth College (ED)||10.4%||10.5%||10.3%||11.5%|
|Duke University (ED)||9%||10.4%||11%||11%|
|Georgetown University (REA)||15.4%||16.4%||16.4%||16.6%|
|Harvard University (SCEA)||5.2%||5.2%||5.3%||5.9%|
|Johns Hopkins University (ED)||11.8%||11.5%||12.4%||15%|
|Lehigh University (ED)||24.7%||26.3%||30%||34%|
|Middlebury College (ED I)||19.7%||16%||17%||17.3%|
|Northwestern University (ED)||9%||10.7%||13.1%||12.9%|
|Pomona College (ED)||8.2%||9.1%||10.3%||12.2%|
|Princeton University (SCEA)||6.1%||6.46%||6.99%||7.28%|
|Rice University (ED)||n/a||15%||16%||14.1%|
|Stanford University (SCEA)||4.6%||4.7%||5.05%||5.07%|
|Swarthmore College (ED)||10.2%||12.5%||12.2%||16.8%|
|UC – Berkeley (EA)||n/a||14.8%||17%||17%|
|University of Chicago (EA)||n/a**||7.6%||7.8%||8.4%|
|University of Notre Dame (REA)||18.4%||18.3%||19.7%||20.8%|
|University of Pennsylvania (ED)||9.15%||9.4%||9.9%||9.9%|
|University of Virginia (EA)||27%||29.9%||28.5%||28.9%|
|USC (No early program)||16%||16.5%||17.5%||17.8%|
|Vanderbilt University (ED)||10.3%||10.5%||n/a||12%|
|Washington Univ. in St. Louis (ED)||16%||16.2%||16.7%||17.1%|
|Williams College (ED)||14.6%||17.3%||16.8%||18.2%|
|Yale University (SCEA)||6.9%||6.3%||6.5%||6.3%|
**In a break from tradition, the University of Chicago did not release this year’s applicant numbers or acceptance rates.
Larger Percentages of Freshman Classes Filled with Early Applicants
Some schools continue to admit large portions of the freshman class through early admissions, making the regular admissions cycle even more competitive. More students tend to apply through regular decision, so they are competing for fewer remaining positions in the class.
As a reminder, early decision is binding; universities are guaranteed the applicants’ attendance, as compared with early action, which is non-binding and allows students until May 1 to decide. As a result, colleges with early decision programs tend to admit a higher percentage of early applicants, who have demonstrated such strong interest, and their binding commitment helps increase admissions yield for the incoming class.
This year, schools that admitted 40% to 50% of their incoming class through their early decision program include Dartmouth, Williams, Duke, University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern, and Middlebury College.
Some schools are planning to accommodate increased applications by expanding enrollment. Lehigh, Princeton, Stanford, UVA, Washington University in St. Louis, and Yale all have strategic plans to increase incoming class size over several years.
Yale has admitted its largest incoming freshman class in school history (15% larger than recent classes), as the new residential colleges of Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin are scheduled to open in the fall of 2017. Dean of Yale College, Jonathan Holloway, said one of the administration’s top priorities is preparing for the larger student body. Over the next four years, Yale plans to increase undergraduate enrollment from 5,400 to 6,200 students. “This expansion touches on every aspect of learning, including teaching, facilities, and financial aid.”
Lehigh implemented The Path to Prominence plan to expand and upgrade the campus, in order to accommodate an increase of the freshman class by 1,000 students over the next seven years. The new College of Health and construction of new dorms are part of this plan.
Stanford University has applied for county permits to accommodate campus expansion for class size growth of 100 more students per year, until the year 2035. In the fall of 2015, 6,994 undergraduates were enrolled at Stanford, and by 2035, this number is projected to increase to 8,785 undergraduates, which is 25% growth over 20 years.
Increasing the diversity of incoming classes has become a top priority for the admissions departments at many schools. This includes international applicants, students from varying socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, and first-generation college students. Schools are seeking top-quality students from diverse backgrounds through a variety of programs, including QuestBridge, the KIPP Foundation, and A Better Chance.
Many schools are committed to increasing diversity and the makeup of their admitted applicant pool demonstrates this goal. Schools with high percentages of students of color in the admitted class include Brown (47%), Cornell (52.5%), Dartmouth (51%), Princeton (53.4%), and Williams (50%).
Some schools have also made international diversity a priority as well. This year, Dartmouth accepted 38% more students from foreign countries, the largest international cohort in the school’s history. About half of the accepted international students will be offered need-based financial aid.
More and more schools are offering delayed admission to incoming freshmen, offering spring acceptances or asking the students to begin the following fall.
Middlebury anticipates that about 100 students will matriculate in February 2018 as members of the Class of 2021. This year, Cornell admitted 60 students to the First-Year Spring Admission (FYSA) program, which was established in 2015 to increase access to a Cornell education. Hamilton aims to enroll about 40 first-year students in their spring admission program each year. This allows Hamilton to offer admission to additional strong applicants, while also filling spots created by current students who are studying abroad during the spring semester.
Princeton offers a different kind of option for students accepted for fall entry. The Bridge Year Program “allows incoming first-year students to spend a tuition-free year engaging in international service work abroad in Bolivia, China, India, Indonesia or Senegal.” This year, up to 35 incoming freshman are expected to participate.
This year, there have been several instances of highly selective schools rescinding acceptances due to lower grades or offensive behavior. One widely publicized incident involved 10 students whose Harvard acceptances were revoked after it was discovered that the individuals had participated in the posting of offensive memes to social media.
Withdrawn acceptances are still the exception and not the norm, but students should be aware of the conditions that have caused revoked admissions and how to avoid this situation. For more information, see our blog, Keeping Your College Acceptance.
Tips for Future Applicants
Demonstrate interest. In a competitive admissions climate increasingly concerned with yield, demonstrating interest is more important than ever. Therefore, apply to 10-12 colleges (a manageable number) so that you can visit all of the schools in which you are interested. When you visit, register with the admissions reception desk. Many schools track visits, and see this as the strongest possible way to demonstrate interest. If you are applying early admissions, visit the college by November 15. If you are applying regular admissions visit in the fall of your senior year, or by February 15 at the latest.
Highlight your heritage. Many universities have made increasing the diversity of incoming classes a top admissions priority. If you identify with an under-represented minority, participate in diversity days hosted by the college, if appropriate.
Think carefully about your college list. When crafting your college list, make sure that you would be happy to attend any school on your list. Do not apply to a university that is not a good fit, or about which you have reservations. Be very realistic about your chances and have grounded expectations. Your college list should have a healthy distribution of reach, target, and safe schools.
Be strategic with early admissions. While early acceptance rates tend to be higher than regular acceptance rates, early admission has become harder to predict. Think carefully and strategically about your early admissions choice.
The college admissions process can be overwhelming, and it may feel difficult to know where to start. At Collegiate Gateway, we are eager to share our expertise and guide you on the path to your “best fit” college. Please feel free to contact us! As always, we’re happy to help!