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 2022, 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 continued to drop slightly for many schools. 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. Bowdoin broke school records and received 25% more applications than last year, which may be attributed to an increase in international applications and the elimination of the application fee for students who are applying for financial aid (a policy which only began last year). Bates also broke records with a 45% increase in applications, and Carnegie Mellon saw a 19% rise. Boston University continues to offer below-average tuition increases compared to other national four-year independent schools, which could be a driving factor in BU’s rising applications. Georgetown’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Charles Deacon attributes the higher number of applications to their location of Washington, DC and increased political engagement among America’s youth since the 2016 elections.
Several factors contribute to rising applicant numbers, and thus lower acceptance rates. The highly-selective process of applying to elite schools can cause stressed-out high school students to apply to even more schools year over year. The Common Application and other online admissions processes, which most schools have adopted, make it easier than ever to apply to even more schools. The Common App broke its own records when students submitted more than 1 million applications by November 1, 2017. This is a 20% increase from the early application cycle in 2016. Additionally, schools have made it a priority to increase their marketing and use innovative ways to reach prospective applicants, especially through social media.
The nationwide rise in SAT scores, due to inflated scores from the re-designed SAT, may have convinced students to consider more elite schools as within reach. For example, a 1500 on the new SAT is equivalent to a 1460 on the old SAT, a new SAT 1400 is equal to an old SAT 1340, and a new SAT 1300 corresponds to an old SAT 1230. As a result, students might not be looking closely enough at College Board concordance tables to reasonably assess their chances of admission based on previous year’s test scores. There also remains uncertainty about how colleges view the new SAT scores, since the new test has only impacted students in the classes of 2017 and 2018 so far.
Early vs. Regular Acceptance Rates for a Sampling of Selective Colleges
Class of 2022*
Class of 2022
Class of 2021*
Class of 2021
Class of 2020*
Class of 2020
Class of 2019*
Class of 2019
|Amherst College (ED)||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a||12.2%||39.6%||12.4%||35.6%|
|Brown University (ED)||5.5%||21.1%||6.8%||21.9%||7.6%||22%||7.2%||20.3%|
|Claremont McKenna College (ED)||n/a||n/a||8%||31%||7%||n/a||9%||27%|
|Columbia University (ED)||Only releases overall acceptance rates, not early and regular admissions rate data; see chart below.|
|Cornell University (ED)||8.3%||24.3%||10.8%||25.6%||12.5%||27.4%||13.7%||26.2%|
|Dartmouth College (ED)||6.9%||24.9%||8.5%||27.8%||8.9%||26%||8.8%||26%|
|Duke University (ED)||6.4%||21.4%||7.3%||24.5%||8.7%||23.5%||9.4%||26%|
|Georgetown University (REA)||n/a||n/a||17.4%||11.9%||n/a||13%||n/a||13%|
|Harvard University (SCEA)||2.43%||14.5%||3.4%||14.7%||3.4%||14.8%||3.2%||16.5%|
|Johns Hopkins University (ED)||8.4%||29.9%||10.3%||30.5%||10.1%||30.3%||11%||28.9%|
|Middlebury College (ED I)||15.1%||50.1%||16.7%||51%||12.7%||53.1%||14.7%||45.3%|
|Northwestern University (ED)||6.4%||26%||7.2%||28%||8.4%||35%||10.8%||36.2%|
|Pomona College (ED)||n/a||n/a||6.8%||21%||n/a||19.4%||n/a||19%|
|Princeton University (SCEA)||3.8%||14.7%||4.3%||15.4%||4.4%||18.5%||4.9%||19.9%|
|Rice University (ED)||n/a||n/a||15%||21%||15%||23%||15.6%||20.4%|
|Stanford University (SCEA)||n/a**||n/a**||n/a**||n/a**||3.6%||9.5%||3.9%||10.2%|
|University of Notre Dame (REA)||14.2%||24.8%||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; see chart below.|
|University of Pennsylvania (ED)||6.5%||18.5%||6.8%||22%||7%||23.2%||7.5%||24%|
|University of Virginia (EA)||24.6%||27.8%||24.6%||29%||28.8%||28.9%||26.6%||30.2%|
|Vanderbilt University (ED)||7.3%||20.5%||8.6%||23.6%||8.8%||23.6%||9.5%||22.5%|
|Washington Univ. in St. Louis (ED)||Only releases overall acceptance rate, not early and regular admissions rate data; see chart below.|
|Williams College (ED)||n/a***||n/a***||12.7%||35%||15%||42%||14.5%||41%|
|Yale University (SCEA)||4.7%||14.7%||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, for the past 2 years Stanford has not released early admissions statistics.
***This year, Williams did not release their early admissions and regular admissions statistics.
Overall Acceptance Rates for the Classes of 2018 through 2021
|College||Class of 2022||Class of 2021||Class of 2020||Class of 2019||Class of 2018|
|Amherst College (ED)||12.8%||12.9%||13.7%||13.7%||13%|
|Bowdoin College (ED I)||10.3%||13.6%||14.3%||14.9%||14.9%|
|Brown University (ED)||7.2%||8.3%||9%||8.5%||8.6%|
|California Institute of Technology (EA)||n/a||8%||7.9%||9%||9%|
|Claremont McKenna College (ED)||n/a||10.4%||9.4%||11%||10%|
|Columbia University (ED)||5.5%||5.8%||6%||6.1%||6.94%|
|Cornell University (ED)||10.3%||12.5%||14%||14.9%||14%|
|Dartmouth College (ED)||8.7%||10.4%||10.5%||10.3%||11.5%|
|Duke University (ED)||8.3%||9%||10.4%||11%||11%|
|Georgetown University (REA)||14.5%||15.4%||16.4%||16.4%||16.6%|
|Harvard University (SCEA)||4.59%||5.2%||5.2%||5.3%||5.9%|
|Johns Hopkins University (ED)||9.9%||11.8%||11.5%||12.4%||15%|
|Lehigh University (ED)||22%||24.7%||26.3%||30%||34%|
|Middlebury College (ED I)||18.4%||19.7%||16%||17%||17.3%|
|New York University (ED)||19%||27%||30%||30%||35%|
|Northwestern University (ED)||8.4%||9%||10.7%||13.1%||12.9%|
|Pomona College (ED)||6.9%||8.2%||9.1%||10.3%||12.2%|
|Princeton University (SCEA)||5.5%||6.1%||6.46%||6.99%||7.28%|
|Rice University (ED)||n/a||16%||15%||16%||14.1%|
|Stanford University (SCEA)||4.29%||4.6%||4.7%||5.05%||5.07%|
|Swarthmore College (ED)||9%||10.2%||12.5%||12.2%||16.8%|
|UC – Berkeley (EA)||n/a||n/a||14.8%||17%||17%|
|University of Chicago (EA)||7.2%||8.7%||7.6%||7.8%||8.4%|
|University of Notre Dame (REA)||17.6%||18.4%||18.3%||19.7%||20.8%|
|University of Pennsylvania (ED)||8.4%||9.2%||9.4%||9.9%||9.9%|
|University of Virginia (EA)||26.5%||27%||29.9%||28.5%||28.9%|
|USC (No early program)||13%||16%||16.5%||17.5%||17.8%|
|Vanderbilt University (ED)||n/a||10.3%||10.5%||n/a||12%|
|Washington Univ. in St. Louis (ED)||15%||16%||16.2%||16.7%||17.1%|
|Williams College (ED)||12.2%||14.6%||17.3%||16.8%||18.2%|
|Yale University (SCEA)||6.3%||6.9%||6.3%||6.5%||6.3%|
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 applicants’ attendance, as compared with early action, which is non-binding and gives students until May 1st 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 including Bowdoin, Dartmouth, Duke, Middlebury, Northwestern, and the University of Pennsylvania admitted 40% to 50% or more of their incoming class through their early decision program.
Smaller Accepted Classes and the Wait List
As schools attempt to determine yield (the number of accepted students who will attend), many institutions admitted smaller classes this year compared to last year. For some, this is a reaction to a larger than expected yield in years prior, or part of a plan to admit more students from the wait list, once the initial admitted group has responded.
Dartmouth only admitted 1,925 students this year, compared to 2,092 students admitted last year. This is the smallest class admitted since the 1990s. Last year’s yield was 61%, Dartmouth’s highest in 25 years.
This year, Harvard admitted 4.6% fewer students than last year. The Class of 2021 had a record-high matriculation rate of 84%, and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons plans to potentially accept 40 to 50 or even 100 students off the wait list to avoid over-enrollment again. Cynics say that this is also a way to compete with Stanford’s exceptionally low admit rates, and increase the stats of the incoming class, which draw from the students initially admitted, not the wait list.
Demonstrated Interest Matters More
As schools receive more and more applications, the difficulty in predicting yield (number of admitted student who will attend) has increased. According to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Charles Deacon at Georgetown, receiving more qualified applications requires admissions officers to place greater importance on the student’s interest in Georgetown when determining admissions decisions.
Demonstrated interest refers to the ways that a student shows how engaged they are in the school and committed to attending if admitted. Most often interest is assessed through college visits and contact with the college. Inside Higher Ed points out that this is particularly important for students with high SAT scores. Colleges do not want to be considered a “safety school,” and may avoid high-scoring applicants who demonstrate little interest beyond applying.
For tips on how to demonstrate interest to your top school choices, see our blog.
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.
For the second year in a row, Yale has admitted its largest incoming freshman class in school history (15% larger than previous recent classes), after the new residential colleges of Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin opened in the fall of 2017.
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 seven years. The new College of Health and construction of new dorms are part of this plan.
Stanford University plans to expand student enrollment “in recognition of the fact that applications to Stanford have increased while spaces available have not.” Accordingly, Stanford has filed for a permit to expand the physical campus to accommodate a 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 a 25% growth over 20 years.
In April, Dartmouth released an enrollment expansion report, detailing the resources required to increase enrollment 10-25%. This was an exploratory report, and Dartmouth has no current plans to increase class size. The report cited schools that have expanded enrollment or plan to expand in the near future including Princeton University, Rice University and Yale University, while noting that Brandeis University, Brown University and Harvard University have decided not to expand their enrollments.
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 Amherst (56%), Brown (49%), Cornell (54%), Dartmouth (50%), Pomona (56.5%), and Princeton (53.4%).
More and more schools are offering delayed admission to incoming freshmen, providing spring acceptances or asking the students to begin the following fall.
Middlebury anticipates that about 100 students will matriculate in February 2019 as members of the Class of 2022. For the third 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 freshmen are expected to participate.
Tips for Future Applicants
Think carefully about your college list. When crafting your college list, reflect about your goals, interests, and values. 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. Apply to 10-12 colleges so that you have enough time to prepare high-quality applications, and still manage the process alongside your academic responsibilities senior year.
Demonstrate interest. In a competitive admissions climate increasingly concerned with yield, demonstrating interest is more important than ever. 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 for early admission, visit the college by November 15. If you are applying for regular admission, visit in the fall of your senior year, or by February 15 at the latest.
Know your colleges. Many colleges go a step further, and emphasize “informed” interest. It’s not enough to visit the college; you need to observe the features of each college that differentiate it from other schools, and that align with your own interests and goals. Be prepared to inform colleges in your essays and interviews of specific reasons why you wish to attend.
Be strategic with early admissions. While early acceptance rates tend to be higher than regular acceptance rates, early admissions have become harder to predict. Think carefully and strategically about your early admissions choice.
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.
Engage in school. In order to maximize your options in the college admissions process, try to reach your potential throughout high school. Engage in your academics: do your homework, participate in classes, choose interesting projects, speak with your teachers if you have questions, and manage your time well. Identify your interests, and choose extracurricular activities that are meaningful to you; participate with commitment and continuity; and seek leadership roles in the activities you enjoy the most. Engaging in your coursework and activities in high school will also position you well for making the most of your college years.
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!