If you are in the midst of planning for your early and regular applications, a look back on last year’s college admissions cycle could provide helpful insights to keep in mind as you delve into the college admissions process.
As a follow-up to our previous blog on Early Admissions Trends for the Class of 2023, here’s an in-depth review of last 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 received a record-breaking number of applications this year, including Brown, Dartmouth, Duke, Harvard, Middlebury, Notre Dame, UVA, Wesleyan, and Yale. Schools that saw a large increase in applications from the previous year, include Franklin & Marshall (33%), Hamilton (34%), and Rice University (30%). Some colleges had their acceptance rate drop into the single digits for the first time in school history, including Bowdoin (8.9%), Colby (9.5%), and Rice (8.7%). Conversely, Northwestern’s acceptance rate rose for the first time in 10 years. But don’t get too excited—it was still in the single digits (8.9%)!
Several factors contribute to rising applicant numbers and, as a result, lower acceptance rates. The highly-selective process of applying to elite schools can cause stressed-out high school students to apply to even more colleges 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. Additionally, schools have made it a priority to increase their marketing and use innovative ways to reach prospective applicants, especially through social media.
Early vs. Regular Acceptance Rates for a Sampling of Selective Colleges
(Note Early Admissions Plan: ED vs EA)
|Regular Acceptance Rate for Class of 2023*||Early Acceptance Rate for Class of 2023||Regular Acceptance Rate for Class of 2022*||Early Acceptance Rate for Class of 2022||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||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a||12.2%||39.6%||12.4%||35.6%|
|Bowdoin College (ED I)||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a||25%||11.6%||33.7%||n/a||31%|
|Brown University (ED)||5.2%||18.2%||5.5%||21.1%||6.8%||21.9%||7.6%||22%||7.2%||20.3%|
|Claremont McKenna College (ED)||n/a||n/a||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)||8.8%||22.6%||8.3%||24.3%||10.8%||25.6%||12.5%||27.4%||13.7%||26.2%|
|Dartmouth College (ED)||6.1%||23.2%||6.9%||24.9%||8.5%||27.8%||8.9%||26%||8.8%||26%|
|Duke University (ED)||5.7%||18%||6.4%||21.4%||7.3%||24.5%||8.7%||23.5%||9.4%||26%|
|Georgetown University (REA)||15%||11.8%||16%||12%||17.4%||11.9%||n/a||13%||n/a||13%|
|Harvard University (SCEA)||2.8%||13.4%||2.43%||14.5%||3.4%||14.7%||3.4%||14.8%||3.2%||16.5%|
|Johns Hopkins University (ED)||7.7%||31%||8.4%||29.9%||10.3%||30.5%||10.1%||30.3%||11%||28.9%|
|Middlebury College (ED I)||13%||45.4%||15.1%||50.1%||16.7%||51%||12.7%||53.1%||14.7%||45.3%|
|Northwestern University (ED)||6.9%||25%||6.4%||26%||7.2%||28%||8.4%||35%||10.8%||36.2%|
|Pomona College (ED)||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a||6.8%||21%||n/a||19.4%||n/a||19%|
|Princeton University (SCEA)||4.2%||13.9%||3.8%||14.7%||4.3%||15.4%||4.4%||18.5%||4.9%||19.9%|
|Rice University (ED)||8%||15.5%||10.3%||18%||15%||21%||15%||23%||15.6%||20.4%|
|Stanford University (SCEA)||n/a**||n/a**||n/a**||n/a**||n/a**||n/a**||3.6%||9.5%||3.9%||10.2%|
|University of Chicago (EA)||Only releases overall acceptance rates, not early and regular admissions rate data; see chart below.|
|University of Notre Dame (REA)||12.5%||21%||14.2%||24.8%||15.7%||24.4%||13.8%||30.3%||16.2%||29.8%|
|University of Pennsylvania (ED)||5.7%||18%||6.5%||18.5%||6.8%||22%||7%||23.2%||7.5%||24%|
|University of Virginia (EA)||20.6%||26%||24.6%||27.8%||24.6%||29%||28.8%||28.9%||26.6%||30.2%|
|Vanderbilt University (ED)||6.3%||19.8%||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***||n/a***||n/a***||12.7%||35%||15%||42%||14.5%||41%|
|Yale University (SCEA)||4.5%||13.2%||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.
** For the past 3 years Stanford has not released early admissions statistics.
***For the past 2 years, Williams did not release their early admissions and regular admissions statistics.
Overall Acceptance Rates
(Note Early Admissions Plan: ED vs EA)
|Overall Acceptance Rate for Class of 2023||Overall Acceptance Rate for Class of 2022||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)||10.8%||12.8%||12.9%||13.7%||13.7%||13%|
|Bowdoin College (ED I)||8.9%||10.3%||13.6%||14.3%||14.9%||14.9%|
|Brown University (ED)||6.6%||7.2%||8.3%||9%||8.5%||8.6%|
|California Institute of Technology (EA)||n/a||6.6%||8%||7.9%||9%||9%|
|Claremont McKenna College (ED)||n/a||8.9%||10.4%||9.4%||11%||10%|
|Columbia University (ED)||5.3%||5.5%||5.8%||6%||6.1%||6.94%|
|Cornell University (ED)||10.6%||10.3%||12.5%||14%||14.9%||14%|
|Dartmouth College (ED)||7.9%||8.7%||10.4%||10.5%||10.3%||11.5%|
|Duke University (ED)||7.2%||8.3%||9%||10.4%||11%||11%|
|Georgetown University (REA)||14%||14.5%||15.4%||16.4%||16.4%||16.6%|
|Harvard University (SCEA)||4.5%||4.59%||5.2%||5.2%||5.3%||5.9%|
|Johns Hopkins University (ED)||9.2%||9.9%||11.8%||11.5%||12.4%||15%|
|Lehigh University (ED)||23.7%||22%||24.7%||26.3%||30%||34%|
|Middlebury College (ED I)||16%||18.4%||19.7%||16%||17%||17.3%|
|New York University (ED)||16%||19%||27%||30%||30%||35%|
|Northwestern University (ED)||8.9%||8.4%||9%||10.7%||13.1%||12.9%|
|Pomona College (ED)||n/a||6.9%||8.2%||9.1%||10.3%||12.2%|
|Princeton University (SCEA)||5.8%||5.5%||6.1%||6.46%||6.99%||7.28%|
|Stanford University (SCEA)||n/a||4.29%||4.6%||4.7%||5.05%||5.07%|
|Swarthmore College (ED)||9%||9%||10.2%||12.5%||12.2%||16.8%|
|UC – Berkeley
|University of Chicago (EA)||5.9%||7.2%||8.7%||7.6%||7.8%||8.4%|
|University of Notre Dame (REA)||15.4%||17.6%||18.4%||18.3%||19.7%||20.8%|
|University of Pennsylvania (ED)||7.4%||8.4%||9.2%||9.4%||9.9%||9.9%|
|University of Virginia (EA)||23.8%||26.5%||27%||29.9%||28.5%||28.9%|
|USC (No early program)||11%||13%||16%||16.5%||17.5%||17.8%|
|Vanderbilt University (ED)||n/a||9.6%||10.3%||10.5%||n/a||12%|
|Washington Univ. in St. Louis (ED)||14%||15%||16%||16.2%||16.7%||17.1%|
|Williams College (ED)||12.4%||12.2%||14.6%||17.3%||16.8%||18.2%|
|Yale University (SCEA)||5.9%||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 Boston University, Dartmouth, Duke, Middlebury, Northwestern, Skidmore, and the University of Pennsylvania admitted 40% to 50% or more of their incoming class through their early decision program.
Interestingly, some schools have added early decision as an application option for the Class of 2024. UVA, for example, now has an ED application which is due October 15, in addition to Early Action, which is due November 1. This year, Boston College is switching from an Early Action program to Early Decision I & II. Last year, BC made a change in not restricting its early action program, which resulted in a 54% increase in early applications.
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.
Bowdoin accepted fewer students this year, due to an increased number of applications and the rising yield from last year (525 accepted for a planned class of 500). Georgetown admitted 130 fewer students this year, due to last year’s over-enrollment. Also, according to the 2017 University Campus Plan, Georgetown has a 20-year agreement with the local community that limits the total number of undergrad students to 6,675. Notre Dame admitted 200 fewer students this year due to last year’s higher enrollment rates.
Fordham received a record-breaking 47,800 applications, and experienced a yield of 10% of the 22,000+ accepted students committing to attending. Conversely, Harvard had a yield of 83% of accepted students attending. Princeton also saw an increase in yield this year to 73.2% and enrolled 90 more students than the target class size. This could have ramifications for the next class in terms of acceptance numbers.
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 the extent to which they are 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 third 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. This year, Lehigh expects to net 150 more students in the class the admit rate increased by about 2% compared to last year.
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 its physical campus in order 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 2018, 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 American Talent Initiative, 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 (55%), Dartmouth (51%), Pomona (57.8%), Princeton (56%), UPenn (51%), and Williams (58%). NYU has admitted its most diverse class in school history.
Harvard increased Asian-American admits to 25.4% compared to last year’s 22.7%, marking the first time that this number has exceeded one-quarter of accepted students. This follows a lawsuit in which Harvard has been accused of discrimination against Asian-American applicants in its admissions process.
More and more schools are offering delayed admission to incoming freshmen, providing spring acceptances or asking the students to begin the following fall.
Tulane offers a Spring Scholars program, whereby students participate in study abroad, internships, or other academic activities in the fall and matriculate in the spring semester. For the fourth year, Cornell admitted 50 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 45 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. USC aims to enroll about 600 freshman spring admits each year. The Brandeis Midyear Program offers 100 freshmen students enrollment each year.
Tips for Future Applicants
Think carefully about your college list. When crafting your college list, reflect on 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!