Early Admissions UPDATE: Class of 2024

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.

NOW WHAT?

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.

Check out our original Early Admissions Trends: Class of 2024 post for a deep dive into exactly what happened in the early rounds.

Watch this space for further updates as more data are released.

5 Comments

  1. Jean Thompson

    Posted on January 25, 2020 at 10:39 am

    I think a large part of it is due to financial aid. Many families are beginning to realize that elite colleges are very stingy in giving out financial aid for middle class families, as per their NPC. Both parents and students are getting discouraged by the hopelessness of the situation. These colleges expect parents to fork out 33%+ of their after tax income on just one kid’s college, then work til’ they drop dead before they can retire. Many families were hard hit by the Great Recession of 2008 and are still making up for lost time in terms of replenishing their depleted nest egg. They are realizing these colleges just aren’t worth the price tag anymore, esp. if their kids are just interested in studying computer science, business or engineering, where the jobs are. In-state colleges offer the same education for much less.

    Some parents are also growing wary of these colleges’ liberal turn in the last decade. Who wants to fork out $300k and watch their children being inculcated in a set of values that are directly contradictory to everything they were taught growing up?

    The Harvard ruling probably also discouraged a lot of Asian students from applying as they know they face much stiffer competition than all other groups.

    • Michele

      Posted on January 29, 2020 at 2:03 pm

      Response to P1: I’M SURE THAT AFFECTS SOME DECISIONS YET THE IVIES AND TOP COLLEGES HAVE RECEIVED MORE APPLICATIONS EVERY SINGLE YEAR FOR THE PAST 2 DECADES – THE NUMBER OF APPS KEEPS RISING ACROSS THE BOARD. THE TOP COLLEGES GIVE SUPER GENEROUS FINANCIAL AID — TRY THE CALCULATOR ON PRINCETON OR HARVARD’S WEB SITE. EVEN FAMILIES WHO MAKE $200K A YEAR QUALIFY. US NEWS RANKS THE “CHEAPEST” COLLEGES TO ATTEND AND YEAR AFTER YEAR IT’S THE TOP COLLEGES – STATE/REGIONAL COLLEGES RANK THE LOWEST WITH VERY HIGH DEBT. IVIES ALL PROVIDE GRANT MONEY/NO LOAN THESE DAYS. NO DEBT AT MOST.

      Response to P2: HAVING ATTENDED TWO IVY LEAGUE SCHOOLS I VEHEMENTLY DISAGREE. THIS IS A COMMON COMPLAINT I HEAR BANDIED ABOUT BY PEOPLE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN UP CLOSE THE STUDENT BODY OR FACULTY AND SIMPLY PARROT WHAT THEY HEAR FROM SO CALLED CONSERVATIVE SOURCES. HOW DO YOU THINK THE FACULTY INCULCATES KIDS? DO THEY TEACH CALCULUS OR BIOLOGY OR CHEMISTRY WITH A LIBERAL BIAS? WHAT WOULD THAT LOOK LIKE? I HAD NO IDEA THE POLITICS OF ANY OF MY PROFESSORS AT DARTMOUTH OR COLUMBIA EVEN IN DEPARTMENTS LIKE GOVERNMENT OR ENGLISH OR HISTORY. WE FOCUSED ON ACTUAL LEARNING FROM MATH TO SCIENCE TO LITERATURE. I DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW YOU WOULD MEASURE THIS “LIBERAL” TURN – WHAT IS YOUR SOURCE/DATA? ARE YOU REFERRING TO THE FACT THAT TOP COLLEGES HAVE FOCUSED ON DIVERSITY AND ATTRACTING MORE MINORITY, FIRST GENERATION AND LOWER INCOME STUDENTS? THAT IS TRUE BUT NOT SURE INCREASING DIVERSITY INDICATES A TURN TO THE LEFT.

  2. John

    Posted on January 30, 2020 at 9:54 am

    Three things: 1) Students are starting realize that no matter how well they do, the ED slots are often already baked in for recruited athletes, recruited URMs, legacies/mega donors 2) prices are so high now for these schools that at some point, solid states schools might make more sense (the old saying: “nothing cures high prices, like high prices”), and 3) The BIggie: “The College Admissions Scandal” left a lot of parents under the impression that the system is effectively rigged if you aren’t an athlete, URM, donor or Hollywood star. This is coffee shop/cocktail party talk I hear from a lot of white and Asian middle class parents of high scoring kids: no matter how academically talented your child is or how high his or her SAT/ACT is, the Elite schools’ admissions systems are already set. They’d all love for you to apply, but you won’t be accepted.

  3. Amom

    Posted on February 6, 2020 at 1:52 pm

    You should address the Early Action bait and switch being practiced by some universities which also offer early decision 1 and 2… basically, they are “deferring” early action students who are eminently qualified and nudging them to switch to ed2. While it may be legal, it cynically exploits the anxiety of the applicants.

    • TTA Team

      Posted on February 12, 2020 at 3:59 pm

      We don’t really believe it’s a “bait and switch” situation in ED1 and ED2…for U Chicago EA maybe. The schools that have EA, ED1, and ED2 do create more confusion and anxiety for applicants. The anxiety this causes the applicants is an unfortunate by-product of the schools’ desires to manage their selectivity and yield rates to their greatest advantage.

      Unhooked candidates who aren’t truly superstars won’t get picked up in EA. A place like Chicago is willing to risk not yielding a superstar but not a more typical eminently qualified student. We don’t know for sure that they “nudge” their EA defers to apply ED2, but if they did, you could potentially see it as a sign that they really like the applicant and would likely admit if he/she would commit to Chicago.

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