Next month, as colleges finalize and release decisions on their early action and early decision applicants, we’ll have our first indication of the kinds of decisions colleges have begun to make as they build a base for their first-year class. But, while we wait, let’s look at some of the information that has been made public.
CLASS OF 2025 ADMISSIONS TRENDS THUS FAR
Here’s what we know…
UVA has received a record number of early decision and early action applications, as reported in the Cavalier Daily. Compared to last year at this time, early decision applications increased by 35 percent (761 more applications) and early action applications by 15 percent (3,762 more applications), respectively. Although the percentage increase in early decision applications is eye-popping, the actual number is less so. In-state students comprise a majority of ED applicants (54 percent to 46 percent) but out-of-state students, looking to leverage the ability to apply early action to UVA along with an early application to a top private college, clearly dominate the early action pool, comprising 72 percent of applicants to this program.
UNC, another top public university, saw its early action applications grow by 10 percent to just under 32,000 applicants. The UNC admissions blog post is short on details about applicant demographics, but we suspect that out-of-state students who also applied to top private universities comprise a healthy chunk of that increase using UNC as a back-up since it is non-binding.
University of Georgia, on its admissions blog, notes nearly 21,000 early applications, a healthy 27 percent increase. Early indicators based on data on students who have started their UGA RD applications lead them to expect a larger than usual RD pool.
The data from these three top public flagship universities suggest some other possible trends for the year. First, the economic hit that so many families have taken these last nine months, especially with record-high job losses and unemployment, likely has more students looking to stay in-state or closer to home rather than to seek private or public schools out of state. With new test-optional policies, the flagships are drawing more applicants from both in-state and regionally who, in other years, may not have been competitive in these pools. Finally, travel restrictions that have limited students’ abilities to visit campuses beyond their region —potentially along with a family’s desire to keep students closer to home—may also be driving more applicants to a state’s flagship campus.
WHAT’S HAPPENING AT TOP PRIVATE UNIVERSITIES?
This year, 5,540 students applied to Brown as early decision candidates, the largest early pool in the university’s history and a 22 percent increase over last year’s early applicant pool. Brown’s news release cites the diversity of the applicant pool with record numbers of first-generation college students, students from low-income families and students of color. In total, 885 students were admitted early to Brown, making for a 16 percent admit rate in this cycle. Of the admitted group, 45 came to Brown through the Questbridge program. Within the cohort admitted, 16 percent of students will be first in their family to attend college. Within the cohort, 48 percent are students of color, defined as those who self-identify as Black, Latinx, Native American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, or Asian — an 8 percent increase from last year.
Cornell University has received over 9,000 applications for early decision, an increase of 36 percent over last year’s ED pool of 6,615 students. An e-newsletter from the Admissions Office shared the details with applicants, along with details about the early decision notification date (December 17 at 7pm EST).
Dartmouth admitted 566 students from its largest-ever early decision pool. This year, the early pool grew by 29 percent to 2,664 applicants, leading the admit rate to decline by five percentage points to 21 percent. As noted in an article in the student paper, “a record-high percentage of accepted early decision students come from diverse racial, socioeconomic and international backgrounds, while recruited athletes comprise an unusually low portion of the cohort…. Of the 566 admits, 36% are Black, Indigenous or people of color, 16% are first-generation and 14% live outside of the U.S. — all early decision records…[additionally] a record 26% come from low-income families, and 18% of the early decision admits are projected to be eligible for Pell Grants.”
We’ve learned that Duke University has alerted its alumni in an email that over 5,000 early decision applications have been received, a record number and almost 20 percent more than last year. The note also points out that the 174 students admitted last year and currently on a gap year will affect the numbers of students admitted this year.
A record number of students made the decision that Johns Hopkins is their first-choice college, with an 11 percent increase in early applications from last year. Although the blog didn’t note the number of applications received in this year’s ED1 group, doing the math, we projected that they received 2,663 applications. With an ED2 round yet to come, we’ll watch for final early numbers from JHU in the early winter.
U Penn accepted a record-low 15 percent of early decision applicants to the Class of 2025, down significantly from last year’s nearly 20 percent early decision admit rate. Driving the increased selectivity was another hefty increase in applications. This year, Penn received 7,032 applicants for early decision, a 23 percent increase from last year’s 6,453 applicants. The Daily Pennsylvanian story notes that about 38 percent of total early decision applicants chose not to include standardized testing as part of their application and of those admitted, 24% did not include test scores. Penn’s Vice Dean and Director of Admissions John McLaughlin added that the increase in applicants may in part be attributed to this year’s test-optional policy. (emphasis added).
Yale’s early action applicant pool swelled by 38%, to a record high 7,939. The number of students admitted – 837 – corresponds to a 10.5 percent acceptance rate for early action, a significant decrease from the rates for the previous few classes. Of the remaining applicants, 50 percent were deferred to the Regular Decision pool and 38 percent were denied admission. Yale’s news story also highlights the university’s partnership with Questbridge – a national non-profit organization that matches low-income students with over 40 top colleges. This year, 72 Questbridge students were among those admitted early.
COMMON APPLICATION DATA
As reported by Inside Higher Ed earlier in November, the Common Application received 8 percent fewer applications through November 2 as compared to the same time last year. Additionally, 60 percent of the Common App’s 921 member schools reported application declines. Our guess is that those declines are likely in smaller and less selective institutions, especially those with binding admissions processes. The article also notes that Common App data suggest the declines are more acute among first generation and low-income college students. Given the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color and low income communities, these are the very students who, when schools shut down, lacked access to knowledgeable teachers, mentors, and counselors to help them prepare to apply in the early round. This means overall, the applicant pool at top colleges is likely to be less diverse than usual.
We also learn that colleges not requiring test scores “experienced stronger first-year application volume through November 2.” Interestingly, a related article notes that Florida’s public universities which require the SAT or ACT are experiencing a decline of up to 50 percent in applications. As of November 9, all 12 universities in the State University System of Florida still required the SAT or ACT, despite the challenges facing students with closed test centers and canceled tests.
Watch our blog for more data as results come into focus for the early decision and early action rounds. Like just about everything else in 2020, we can predict there will be much that is unprecedented.