What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, higher ed reporters were trumpeting the growing popularity of early decision programs. Several top schools hit record highs with the number of early decision applicants; as a result, early admit rates hit an all-time low at those same schools.
Admissions leaders were clear about reasons for these increases, most pointing to efforts to increase accessibility to talented students who, historically, are underrepresented at the nation’s top private colleges. Several factors were highlighted as explanation for the growth, everything from enhancements to financial aid (Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $1.8 billion gift for financial aid to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins; expanded financial aid at Colby and Rice) to the University of Chicago’s decision to go test optional; to significantly greater use of Questbridge as a pipeline of students from underrepresented backgrounds (low income, first gen, and underrepresented minority students). Perhaps less publicly proclaimed were the colleges’ own direct marketing efforts (email and snail mail), aimed at enticing larger numbers of students to apply early through a drumbeat of messaging.
THE LURE OF EARLY DECISION
Has the popularity of early decision hit its limit? As we saw this past December, many top schools reported a decline in the number of early decision applicants for the Class of 2024. Check out our Early Admissions Stats page for the whole picture! Admissions deans are a bit circumspect about these decreases but we’ve gleaned some tidbits of information. Dartmouth and Emory point to a decrease in the number of international students in their early pools. Penn noted a change in the admissions application, requiring two shorter essays instead of one slightly longer supplement, as a potential cause of their decrease. Harvard’s dean attributed the university’s results to economic uncertainty worldwide and a plateauing of the number of high school students in the U.S., among other factors.
Where do we go from here? Several key schools have made it a policy to not release their early statistics (citing concerns about increasing student/parent stress about the process), and so the full picture is still incomplete. It remains to be seen if the volume of regular decision applicants to top colleges and universities will reflect similar decreases or rebound. No matter the final number of regular decision applicants, there will likely be more volatility in this year’s admissions cycle, as colleges try to assess who, among their regular decision applicants, have the highest yield probability.
As we’ve mentioned before, summer offers an opportunity not just for rest and relaxation, but also for intellectual exploration. College admissions officers want to admit active, enthusiastic learners, so they look carefully at how students spend their time away from school. For students, this means that it’s important to use the summer to explore an area of academic interest. Advancing their research background or tackling college-level coursework not only allows students to develop a strong background in fields that intrigue them, but also helps them to stand out in an increasingly competitive admissions process.
One particularly easy way to stand out from other prospective college applicants: attend a selective summer program known for its rigorous academic offerings. While the application deadlines for some elite summer programs have already passed, there are still quite a few that are accepting submissions. Below, we’ve listed some of our favorite options — and, as a bonus, all of them are tuition-free!
TUITION-FREE SUMMER PROGRAMS
Anson L. Clark Scholars Program: Based at Texas Tech, this summer research program allows qualified juniors and seniors to carry out research in almost any academic area, including the humanities, fine arts, social sciences, natural sciences, and mathematics. In addition to working one-on-one with faculty on collaborative research experiences, admitted students spend seven weeks attending seminars, discussions, and field trips. Scholars receive a $750 stipend for attending the program, as well as free room and board. Applications due February 10th.
Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program: This free, online, highly selective program pairs experienced writers with high school students hoping to learn about the creative writing process. The program itself is flexible and often takes place through informal correspondence, but admitted students have a chance to share their work with mentors and peers on a weekly or biweekly basis. Application not yet open.
MITES: MIT’s Minority Introduction to Engineering and Sciences (MITES) program offers six weeks of academic enrichment programming for rising high-school seniors with an interest in science and engineering. Admitted students take free courses in math, life sciences, physics, and humanities. The program especially encourages applications from Hispanic, African American, and Native American students, underserved students and students from rural or predominantly minority high schools. Applications due February 1st.
Eugene and Ruth Roberts Summer Student Academy: Advanced high school students can apply to participate in City of Hope’s summer research program, which allows students to spend ten weeks working as part of a biomedical research team. Summer Academy students design and work on their own research projects, assisted by physicians, scientists, and post-doctoral students. In addition, students attend weekly seminars and workshops to share their research findings and discuss topics ranging from poster presentations to biomedical ethics. Most students are paid a $4,000 stipend for their work during this internship. Applications due March 9th.
Wistar High School Fellowship in Biomedical Research: The Wistar Institute, which focuses on early-stage discovery science in cancer, immunology, and infectious disease, offers Philadelphia-area students an opportunity to carry out biomedical research. During this seven-week program, students are integrated into a research lab and work on unique projects under the guidance of a team of mentors. They also attend weekly seminars and take part in an introduction to library research skills. Applications due March 27th.
Struggling to figure out what you should do this summer? Worried that you’ve missed the boat on applications? Consider enrolling in our Application Boot Camp program, which offers a personalized Admissions Report to guide you in selecting courses, preparing for standardized tests, identifying important extracurricular opportunities, and, yes, crafting a high-impact plan for the summer months. Let us help you as you navigate this process!
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!
As December slips by, many schools are releasing their Early Decision I and Early Action decisions. Psssst…. We have the most up to date release information here. For students who are accepted or rejected, these results are pretty clear-cut. Some students, however, will face a less definitive status: deferral.
WHAT BEING DEFERRED MEANS
Being deferred can be likened to Rudolph’s Island of Misfit Toys –not knowing exactly where you fit or if you fit at all. In theory, deferrals are fairly straight forward. When a school postpones making a decision about a student’s application until the regular round, that student is deferred. Students can be deferred for any number of reasons:
a spike in the number of early applicants
scores below the expected level
a desire to see fall semester grades or the results of recent standardized tests
low level of demonstrated interest
vague or no academic extras outlined on common app
It’s also not uncommon for students to receive “courtesy deferrals” (rather than rejections) if their families are well-connected at that particular college or if they are a legacy or have a sibling at the school.
Unfortunately, schools ultimately don’t accept many of the students they defer. As a rule of thumb, most schools accept only 5-10 percent of deferred students. And though early round admission rates are much better than regular they are still extremely competitive. For instance, Harvard accepted 895 out of 6,424 to their Class of 2024, reflecting a 13.9 acceptance rate for their binding early action round. Typically, the regular round acceptance rate hovers around just 3 percent! In UVA’s first early decision round since 2006, admittance to the Class of 2024 was offered to 749 out of 2,157 students, which represents a 35 percent acceptance rate. Last year, just 23.8 percent were admitted during the regular round for the Class of 2023. Brown accepted 800 out of 4,562 early decision applicants to their Class of 2024, representing a 17.5 percent acceptance rate. The regular round acceptance rate last year was 5.17 percent. No matter how you shake it, the admissions competition in the early rounds is tough but it’s even tougher in regular.
BUT, if you are deferred, there are still plenty of things you can do to increase your odds of admission during the regular round. If you do nothing, however, chances are your results will be an ultimate denial. We’ve laid out some action items for deferred students below.
TOP TIPS IF YOU’VE BEEN DEFERRED
As soon as you receive notice that you have been deferred:
Bring up your grades. As we’ve said before, grades are the most important factor in admissions decisions, so you’ll want to finish the fall semester with the strongest grades possible. If your senior-year grades are weak, we recommend cutting out all extra activities and focusing on improving your academic performance.
Retake subject tests if needed. If you had any sub par scores, now is the time to send in higher scores. Basically, if nothing changes, the result won’t either.
Seek out awards, competitions, or high-level extracurricular activities in your area of interest.Colleges want to see concrete evidence of your accomplishments and your continued passion for your field. After strong grades, additional accolades and impressive projects are the next most important element to prove your strength as an applicant.
Ask your guidance counselor to call the admissions office on your behalf. During this call, your guidance counselor should express support for your application and also find out any information he or she can about why you were deferred. Were items missing from your application? Did the school see a huge rise in applicants from your state?
Askone of your senior-year teachers to write a letter of support on your behalf. If you’ve spent the semester doing research with a college faculty or working in a lab, it would also be appropriate to get a letter of support from your faculty mentor. Make sure to stick to one recommendation only, though! You don’t want to overwhelm the admissions office.
If you have any contacts at the school that might be helpful to you (e.g., trustee pals, fundraising connections), reach out to them now.
By mid-January (or whenever first semester grades come out), submit the following materials to the admissions officer covering your area:
A one-page deferral letter that includes:
A note about your strong fall semester grades, as well as any new awards, scores or honors you’ve received
Updates on your interesting extracurricular activities or accomplishments
One paragraph detailing why this school is still your first choice. Be precise about why you love the school and what you would add to its campus. This is a crucial paragraph because it allows admissions officers to see your passion for the school and to envision you as part of the student body.
An updated school transcript that includes your fall-semester grades
One letter ofsupport from asenior-year teacher, if applicable
KEEP IN MIND
Some things to keep you mind as you go through this process:
Do advocate for yourself, but don’t become a pest. It’s okay to send a deferral letter to the admissions officer covering your area; it’s not okay to stake out his or her office for the next few weeks.
Come up with a back-up plan in the event that you are not accepted to your top school during the regular round. What other schools are on your list? Have you considered an ED2 option?
Don’t let a deferral erode your confidence. Remember, you’re a smart, talented student with a lot to offer, and there are many schools (maybe even this one!) that will ultimately accept you because of it.
If you’re still confused by the deferral process or struggling to figure out how to improve your application, feel free to contact us. We’re here to help!
After being admitted to Harvard last spring, Parkland shooting survivor Kyle Kashuv suddenly saw his acceptance revoked after racist social media posts that he had written in 2017 surfaced last month.
Regardless of what you think of Kyle’s politics and whether or not you believe that young people may do and say things that, as they mature, no longer reflect who they are, colleges reserve the right to rescind the offer of admission for any action that calls into question a student’s academic or personal integrity. Period, end of story. In this matter, colleges hold all the cards. Actions that are found to be unethical, offensive, intolerant, and counter to a university’s values will not be tolerated, whether you are a pre-frosh or a current student. When this information comes to light before admissions decisions are finalized, it’s highly unlikely that the student would even be offered admission in the first place. If it comes to light after a student has been admitted, the college will thoroughly investigate and reserves the right to rescind its offer of admission. If information surfaces after a student has already matriculated, the student will most likely be expelled from the university and lose all credits that they may have accumulated.
So, let Kyle’s story be a cautionary tale. Even if you’ve attended Application Boot Camp and been accepted by your top choices, your social media posts are discoverable and, should they contain material that some may find offensive, you might soon find yourself in a situation similar to Kyle’s and ‘unadmitted’ from your dream school. We always remind our students never to post anything they wouldn’t want their grandmother to read. Even things posted in jest or as seemingly safe as a Google document can be read by others.
DO ADMISSIONS OFFICERS CHECK APPLICANTS’ SOCIAL MEDIA?
A story in Inside Higher Ed last year looked at survey data to understand whether or not admissions leaders felt it was appropriate to check the social media profiles of their applicants and if so, how many are actually taking the time to view them. What they found was that more than two-thirds of admissions leaders said it was “fair game” for them to review applicants’ social media profiles on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as part of their admissions review. But, the survey also found that the reality of a time-crunched admissions review process meant that less than one-third of admissions staff actually have time to do so. Additionally, the survey posited that more students use private social networks and use fake accounts that only friends are aware of and are harder to trace back to the owner. That said, we know of a number of cases where other students, competitive about college admissions, turned over inappropriate posts or emails to admissions offices.
Before you decide that the odds are ‘good’ that someone won’t take a look at your old posts and tweets, remember that others are looking as well—even if you mark it as ‘private’.
SOCIAL MEDIA 101 FROM TOP TIER
Summer is a great time to do a little housekeeping on your various social media sites. Here are our top housekeeping tips:
Don’t post intolerant, racist, or otherwise offensive stuff on any of your sites, regardless of your political point of view. It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyways. Teenage brains may be immature but you know enough now to know when material is offensive and crosses a line.
Google yourself and see what comes up. Do you like what you see? Remember, this is probably the approach that busy admissions officers will take if they are curious to see what you put out there.
Sanitize your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other sites. As a rule of thumb, if your grandmother would be offended, take it off your site right now.
Use social media to help tell your distinctive story. Blog about issues you care deeply about, interesting scientific discoveries, vexing math puzzles, and current events. Post pictures of your favorite works of art, the books you’ve read this summer, your dreams and aspirations, the view from your bedroom window, and yes, the family pet.
Never give anyone your log in to the Common App, Naviance, Google Docs, etc.
You digital natives know that there’s a right and a wrong way to use social media. Be smart and think before you tweet or post!
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