We’ve had vigorous debates on this blog and with students and parents about the merits of early decision. As a brief primer, both early action and early decision have early November deadlines, but early action is NON binding (you do not have to say “yes”) while early decision is binding (you have to say “yes” and withdraw any other applications). The confusing thing is that Harvard, Yale, and Stanford have a “single choice/restrictive” early action policy (non-binding but you can only apply to state schools or international schools as back up) while the other five Ivies all have normal early decision. Princeton for this cycle is not doing any early round at all which throws a wrench into the scene.
STATISTICS TELL THE STORY
As you can see from the tables below, early decision acceptance rates are 3 to 4 times higher than regular only acceptance rates while early action acceptance rates are higher, but not by as big a margin with the exception of MIT. The one thing that is indisputable is that regular only admittance rates are super low from 2-3% at Stanford (which didn’t give out exact numbers from this cycle so we are guesstimating) and Harvard to a “high” of 6-7%. Looking at just the numbers, there is a clear advantage to applying early action/early decision at every school. But as many perceptive readers of past posts pointed out, the difference is not quite as sharp because legacies and recruited athletes tend to get accepted in the early decision round so while it may look like Dartmouth takes 26% of ALL early applicants, it is going to be less than that for “non-hooked” applicants. As I will illustrate below, even so, it is worth it to apply early decision to increase your odds. Some argue that early decision can lock you into a financial bind as you cannot compare financial aid packages so is “only for the wealthy.” That is not true because the Ivies bend over backwards to give generous aid packages once they commit to a student and in the worst case scenario, you can be released from the early decision agreement if after you appeal your financial aid award, you still cannot afford it.
REASONS EARLY DECISION STILL MAKES SENSE
Even taking into account legacies and recruited athletes, the acceptance rate is still higher than regular round.
There are MANY fewer applicants in the early round (look at the table below – sometimes 8-10 times fewer in early!) which means your application, essays, teacher recs and materials are read much more carefully and typically by admissions officers rather than outside readers.
Not only are there fewer applicants in early, but with legacies and athletes who tend to be in the lower side academically, truly strong applicants who are academic superstars shine brighter in the early decision round than in the regular round. To say it another way, the regular round is much more competitive with many of the nation’s top students waiting until regular round. The early round overall is weaker because of the recruited athletes and legacies and “reach” applicants.
Applying early decision tells the college that you picked them first – and you love their school and are willing to commit. That means for a student who might be “on the border,” often admissions officers will take that student in early but not in regular. This is demonstrated interest on steroids.
What about getting deferred? Think of it this way, if you were deferred in the early round, you would have been rejected in the regular round, so nothing lost there. Plus, deferred students have a chance to send an update with new grades, awards, scores, etc… and roughly 5-15% of deferred kids (depending on the school) will be accepted during the regular round. The advantage is that the college knows it is your top choice, signaled by the original ED choice.
Finally, with COVID still in the picture, many schools (especially small liberal arts schools) have lost a ton of tuition dollars from last year plus have many added expenses to develop a Coronavirus plan (paying for HEPA filters, more ventilation, etc…). That means that students who don’t need financial aid AND who apply ED will have higher admissions odds this year.
Related to the above, we predict that many liberal arts colleges along with top universities will admit a higher percentage of the class in the ED round to lock in tuition paying students.
As I’ve argued before, if I could wave my magic wand, I would force all the top colleges to have two rounds of early decision (I and II) but 1- limit the number to perhaps only 30-35% of the total class rather than 50% as U Penn takes now for example) and 2- provide super generous financial aid/grants to students. That way colleges could still reserve 60-70% of the spots for regular round but still give students two rounds to indicate a true first choice. I would eliminate single choice early action so HYPS don’t artificially elevate themselves over the other schools simply based on policy. In a typical year, 20,000 to 25,000 students are deferred or rejected from HYPS, freak out, and then apply to 20-30 schools in regular round. That is why the system is flooded with a ridiculous number of applicants in regular round. Changing the system would reduce that number dramatically. But no school wants to act in a vacuum – they need to join hands and take the plunge all at once to insert some measure of sanity into the process.
The overall admissions rates for the Class of 2024 are somewhat of a natural bounce back from last year’s record lows achieved by many top schools. Columbia, for instance, had a 6.1 percent acceptance rate vs last year’s 5.1 percent. Harvard had a 4.9 percent acceptance rate this year vs their record low of 4.5 percent last year. Princeton was slightly more competitive this year with a 5.5 percent acceptance rate, down from 5.78 percent for the Class of 2023.
WAITLIST + COVID-19 = BIG STORY OF THE YEAR
The big story this year in selective college admissions, however, will be the use of the wait list. Admissions staff were putting the finishing touches on their admitted classes while the coronavirus was sweeping the globe and we, as a nation and world, were coming to grips with the COVID-19 pandemic and its profound impact on all facets of our lives. Traditional yield modeling was not built to predict the impact of a global pandemic on the percent of students who would accept a school’s offer of admission. From international students who may struggle to get visas to travel to the U.S. (assuming travel restrictions are lifted) to families where parents have lost jobs or whose resources to pay for school suffered a significant hit, to concerns about the virus returning in the fall or more students asking for gap years to wait out the virus, this year’s yield is anything but predictable.
LEVERAGING THE EARLY ROUND PAYS OFF… AGAIN
As always, the students who leveraged the early round of admissions (including our Top Tier Admissions students) had better odds. Brown had a 17.54 percent acceptance rate in the binding early decision round and a 5.3 percent acceptance rate in the regular round. U Penn had a 19 percent early acceptance rate vs 5.9 percent in regular.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND UNFAMILIAR TERRITORY
We already know that application volume was at best plateauing and more likely dropping this cycle. Even with higher admit rates, it’s likely that admissions offices were still conservative in the numbers of students to admit because of the uncertainty of yield numbers.
Factors compounding uncertainty include significant and worldwide economic downturn, travel restrictions, and the specter of future pandemic waves.
Will more students want gap years to try to “wait out” the pandemic and enroll in 2021 instead? The challenge will be finding something meaningful to do during the gap year: whether scholarly and intellectually deepening or volunteer work that helps their communities heal from the impacts of the pandemic. Perhaps the family needs the student’s help as caregiver or breadwinner?
Will the effects of this pandemic on college admissions make next year’s admission cycle even tougher? If many students are granted gap years, that then decreases the available seats in the Class of 2025.
Some colleges and universities are already planning to only offer e-learning for the fall semester. Will college students and their parents pay full tuition for an e-learning experience? College and universities, whose finances have already taken a huge hit because of lost room and board revenues, shrinking endowment, and decreases in philanthropy, may be pressured to reducing tuition charges. How will colleges afford to operate while losing millions on tuition, room, board from students? Will we see college shutdowns? We don’t think students will find the online college classroom a satisfactory experience — or worth the private college tuition dollars.
Our world is experiencing disruption the likes of which we’ve never seen before on such a global scale. We continue to believe that a rigorous education will provide students with the tools they need to develop into leaders and citizens who will make this world a better place.
All too often, the college admissions process gets boiled down to numbers. We want to give a shout-out to our Top Tier Class of 2024. We know that so much of what you looked forward to this spring—celebrations, traditions, and capstone experiences in and out of the classroom—will not unfold as planned. But, we’re enormously proud of what you’ve accomplished and know that you are ready to make your mark on the world.
As of today, on-campus activities for prospective students have been canceled at these schools, but DAILY other cancellations are happening and it appears that most every state is closing all schools. Assume you will not have revisit days or info sessions/tours. Please scroll down for additional updates on testing cancellations.
Students in England and Wales learned yesterday that the UK government had taken the unprecedented step of canceling this summer’s GCSE and A Level exams because of COVID-19. Instead, students due to sit for these exams this May and June will be awarded a “fair grade” to recognize the work they have done thus far in their coursework.
For sixth-formers (equivalent to U.S. high school seniors) applying to U.S. universities, your predicted A-Levels marks have already been sent to colleges, so your U.S. college decisions won’t be negatively impacted. However, information has yet to be shared with students and families about how the cancelation of these exams will impact admission to UK universities.
This will be tough for UK students in Year 11 since U.S. admissions offices rely on GCSE scores. They do have your mock GCSE results from December/January but those may not be as strong in all cases. The question of how a “fair grade” will be determined will be addressed by UK Education Secretary Gavin Williamson this Friday.
Regardless, with extra time on your hands now, we strongly suggest that UK students planning to apply to U.S. universities next year sit for additional SAT subject tests – especially if you can squeeze one or two into your schedule this June.
Students seeking to sit for the TOEFL exam will find cancelations at test centers worldwide. Coronavirus-related closings and postponements can be found online here.
UPDATE March 16, 2020 from CollegeBoard: May 2020 SAT administration canceled
“In response to the rapidly evolving situation around the coronavirus (COVID-19), College Board is canceling the May 2, 2020 SAT administration. Makeup exams for the March 14 administration (scheduled for March 28) are also canceled.” Click through the CollegeBoard link above for the full information.
“The AP Program is developing resources to help schools support student learning during extended closures, as well as a solution that would allow students to test at home, depending on the situation in May. Additional information will be posted by March 20.”
“The safety of students and test center staff is ACT’s top priority. ACT has rescheduled its April 4 national test date to June 13 across the U.S. in response to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). All students registered for the April 4 test date will receive an email from ACT in the next few days informing them of the postponement and instructions for free rescheduling to June 13 or a future national test date.”
Are you planning on visiting colleges over spring break or later in the spring semester? Seniors, are you hoping to attend the college preview weekend for your dream school later in April? Are you scheduled to take the SAT or ACT in March or April? Before heading out, check the websites of colleges and universities on your list for updates on COVID-19 related closures.
COVID-19 RELATED COLLEGE & UNIVERSITY CLOSURES
Campus Tours and Information Sessions
Prospective students hoping to visit colleges this spring should check the website or call the admission office before heading to campus. As of today, on-campus activities for prospective students have been canceled at:
SAT and ACT Test Centers PLUS Major UK Test and TOEFL Exams Latest Cancelations
For the most up-to-date information on exams scheduled for March and April, the best option is to regularly check the College Board and ACT registration pages. Here, you’ll find information on what to do if your test center is closed.
As we know, the situation with COVID-19 is a fluid and fast-changing one. Be sure to regularly check university and testing websites to stay abreast of most recent developments regarding closures or travel restrictions.
Know of any other closures? Let us know in the comments.
We’re sharers… sharers of knowledge, guidance, truth and in this case –regular decision notification dates!
Since it’s almost Valentine’s Day we thought we’d share some LOVE with our faithful subscribers (not to mention those who appreciate ‘one-stop shopping’) and take a little work off your plates! Say goodbye to the endless navigation of college websites seeking regular decision notification dates and hello to our linked data below. See below for a listing of linked regular decision notification dates or timeframes for this year!
As always, we will be updating as we learn more information.
CLASS OF 2024 –REGULAR DECISION NOTIFICATION DATES
With Class of 2024 results now coming in on the early admissions round at top colleges and universities around the country, here is our expert assessment on what we’ve learned thus far. We’ll continue to update our information as more schools release their information.
UPS AND DOWNS
Unlike past years that saw big gains in everyone’s early numbers, this year was more of a mixed bag. Brown saw its number of early decision applicants grow by 8 percent, on top of a 21 percent increase in ED last year. Cornell, too, saw its pool grow by 7.4 percent and a news release from the university reminds us that the number of early decision applicants has grown 90 percent over the last decade.
Harvard saw its pool decrease by nearly 8 percent over last year to 6,958 early applicants. The last time Harvard saw its early pool decrease was in the fall of 2013 for applicants to the Class of 2018. Duke’s early decision pool decreased by 552 students (11.4 percent) over last year. Dartmouth’s early decision pool decreased by 16 percentage points over last year to 2,069. Likewise, Penn saw its early decision applicant pool drop by 9 percent from the record level reached last fall.
Natural disasters, school shootings, global economic uncertainty, teacher strikes, and demographic trends are cited by admissions deans as possible explanations for declining early pools. It could also be that savvy students are being more strategic in how they use their early option, aiming for a surer bet rather than going for the long-shot. We’ll continue to monitor these trends and share our perspective as more data are released in the coming months.
WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR
Diversity of background continues to be a key priority in the selection process. Schools are working actively to build more diversity into their applicant pools through targeted outreach and partnerships with organizations like Questbridge.
Several schools made particular mention of greater numbers of low income and first-generation college students among the group offered admission. These hooks are clear institutional priorities increasingly supported through the admissions process.
Both Cornell and Penn are schools that went big for legacy admits, with 22 percent and 24 percent of the ED admits, respectively, being the children of alumni.
Many schools with binding early decision programs will admit 45-50+ percent of their incoming class through the early process. Doing so ensures that they can lock in a solid foundation for their incoming class and reduce yield volatility.
TOUGHEST SCHOOL TO GET INTO THIS EARLY ROUND?
Based on publicly reported data, the toughest early admission pool this year belonged to MIT. This year, 9,291 students applied for early admission to MIT, and 687 (7%) were offered admission.
Remember for the vast majority of top schools (MIT being the exception), the rate of admission in the early round will be significantly higher than the rate of admission for regular applicants. Duke, for instance, admitted 20% of its early applicants; last year it admitted only 5.7% of its regular decision applicants.
SELECTED EARLY ROUND APPLICANT POOL STATS
Brown admitted 800 students this December, corresponding to roughly 45 percent of its incoming class. The admitted group represents just 17.5 percent of its 4,562 early decision applicants, making this the most competitive early decision process they’ve ever experienced. The 4,562 students represented an 8 percent increase in volume over last year. Dean of Admissions Logan Powell cites The Brown Promise – a new initiative which replaces all loans in University financial aid packages – as having a major impact on the size and composition of the early pool. 62 percent of those admitted to Brown in early decision applied for financial aid, up from just 50 percent two years ago. Brown continues to push to diversify their student body, which is especially evident in the five percentage point increase in the number of first gen students in the ED admit group (17 percent this year versus 12 percent last year).
For the first time in four years, Cornell’s early decision admit rate increased. The university received 6,615 early decision applicants (a 7 percent increase over the past year’s ED applicant numbers) and admitted 23.8 percent (1,576 students), meaning its admit rate increased by 1.2 percentage points. Those admitted are estimated to comprise 49 percent of the Class of 2024. Interestingly, the number of women admitted this year decreased by four percentage points to 51.4 percent. Hard to know exactly what to make of this statistic—other than perhaps Cornell was concerned that it might be approaching a tipping point with respect to gender balance.
Dartmouth has offered admission to 547 early decision applicants, for an admit rate of 26 percent. The College’s official release notes that the early group includes record percentages of public high school students (54 percent), first-generation students (15 percent), foreign citizens (12 percent), and students of color (35 percent). The children of Dartmouth alumni represent 15 percent of the accepted students and recruited athletes make up 25 percent of the group.
At Duke, 887 students were admitted from a pool of 4,300 early decision applicants. With a drop in early applicants (over 11 percent from the prior year), Duke’s early acceptance rate increased to 21 percent, making this year’s ED process a bit less competitive than the past couple of years. Altogether, these students will comprise 51 percent of the incoming Class of 2024. Students of color comprise 46 percent of those admitted and international students make up another 6 percent.
Harvard saw its early action pool decrease by 7.7 percent, the first time since the fall of 2013 that the university’s early action pool posted a decline. In all, 895 of 6,424 early applicants were offered early admission to the Class of 2024. The 13.9 percent acceptance rate represents a 0.5 percent increase from last year. The early admission acceptance rate has not increased year-over-year since 2013. Dean Fitzsimmons takes a global view to explain the decrease, pointing to everything from wildfires in California (the number of early applicants from California declined nearly 17 percent) to school shootings and economic uncertainty to declining numbers of high school seniors. Women comprise 51.7 percent of the admitted class thus far, slightly more than last year, when women made up 51.3 percent of the early admit class. It seems that Harvard tipped in favor of women who are interested in the physical sciences and computer science. This year, 57.4 percent of admitted students who said they intend to concentrate in the physical sciences are women, compared to 52.9 percent last year and 33 percent the year before. For computer science, 49.1 percent of interested students are women, an increase from 42.9 percent last year, and 29 percent the year before.
Penn admitted 19.7 percent of early decision applicants to the Class of 2024 — breaking nearly a decade of declining ED acceptance rates. Of those who are United States citizens or permanent residents, 52 percent identify as students of a minority group, an increase from 48 percent last year. Similarly, 54 percent of admitted students identified as female, an increase from 51 percent last cycle. 10 percent of admitted students are first-generation college students, a slight decrease from last year’s 11 percent. Of students admitted to the Class of 2024, 24 percent had a parent or grandparent who attended Penn. Last year, 23 percent of admitted students were legacies.
Explaining the drop in ED application volume, Dean Eric Furda in an interview in the student paper seems to suggest a return to “normal” after a “bump” caused by higher scores on the redesigned SAT and students who therefore saw themselves as stronger. He, too, seems to raise the notion that natural disasters, power outages, and teacher strikes impacted the numbers of students applying ED.
Princeton University has offered admission to 791 students in its early pool this year (although the university coyly refrains from telling us how many students applied, suggesting it, too, saw a smaller pool). Of those admitted, 48 percent of students self-identify as students of color, 16 percent are from low income backgrounds, 13 percent are first generation college students, and 11 percent are international students.
Yale’s early application volume also decreased this year to 5,777, down 4 percent from last year’s record-setting pool of 6,020 students. Although short on details about the admitted group, a news release points to an announcement earlier this year from Yale that the past several classes have all set records for socioeconomic diversity, with more than 1,000 undergraduates receiving Federal Pell grants. Of those, more than 600 are in the first-year and sophomore classes. Additionally, the number of students per class who will be the first in their families to graduate from college has increased by 75 percent in the past six years.
Over on the West Coast, there are crickets from Stanford on the details of its early applicant pool and REA admits. The school announced last fall that starting with the Class of 2023, it will stop releasing admissions data until well after the admissions cycle concludes. The change was intended to reduce the “outsized emphasis placed on the admit rates at U.S. colleges and universities,” according to the Stanford news site. “By focusing on the admit rate, talented students who would thrive at Stanford may opt not to apply because they think Stanford seems out of reach,” said Provost Persis Drell.
But, stop the presses, Stanford did just release its overall admissions data for the Class of 2023. Its admit rate fell to a record-low 4.34 percent. Out of a record-high 47,498 applicants to Stanford’s Class of 2023, 2,062 were offered admission.
For two years in a row, Georgetown University has seen its early application volume decrease. This year, 7,305 students submitted early action applications, a decrease of nearly 13 percent since the fall of 2017 when nearly 8,400 students submitted early applications. To be sure, the fact that Georgetown uses a separate – and somewhat cumbersome – application may be a deterrent to students, as is its somewhat unclear testing policies. Georgetown’s Dean of Admissions Charlie Deacon points, instead, to the increased pressure that students feel to choose a binding early decision program (versus a non-binding early action program like Georgetown’s) as the cause of the decrease. In particular, two of Georgetown’s biggest competitors – UVA and BC – both implemented binding early decision programs this year.
Interestingly, Georgetown chose to accept a smaller percentage of its early pool this year – 11.72 percent of early applicants (a record low) were offered admission despite the falling numbers of applicants for the last two years. We wonder why Georgetown chose to do this, especially since Dean Deacon makes a point of highlighting the strength of the pool despite the decreasing numbers of applicants. Could it be looking for the silver lining – “most selective early process yet” – despite the downturn in application volume? If two of your competitors are taking a bigger slice of your market share, wouldn’t you want a slightly larger admit group to help yield the very best students in your early pool?
Stay tuned for more updates as they become available!
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