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Early Admissions Results for Top-Tier Schools

Admissions rates for Ivy League and many other elite schools have been in the single digits or low teens in recent years, so students applying to them search for ways to increase their chances of acceptance. One of the most effective means of doing so is to apply through a school’s early admissions program. The acceptance rates for early admissions programs at top-tier schools are markedly higher than the rates for those admitted through the Regular Decision process.

The admissions offices of most institutions, if asked about the higher rates of acceptance in early admissions programs, generally reply that they reflect the greater strength of early applicant pools. Harvard, for example, has stated that they ‘’… do not offer an advantage to students who apply early. Higher Early Action acceptance rates reflect the remarkable strength of Early Action pools.”

However, in the college admissions community, there is a strong sense that a competitive applicant will improve their chance of admission by applying to a top-tier institution through early admissions. This view is based on the observation that admissions rates for early applicants can be three or more times higher than Regular Decision rates. This begs the question, “Are early admissions pools 300% better than Regular Decision pools?”

This is not necessarily the case, because there’s another factor involved. Schools are motivated to accept a higher percentage of early applicants as an effective means of managing yield (the percentage of accepted students who matriculate at the school), notwithstanding qualitative distinctions between applicant pools.

Apparently, the word is out that there really is an advantage in seeking early admission. The volume of early applications has grown significantly in recent years, including the most recent round that began in November of last year. The spike in early applications is evident at many highly competitive schools. Princeton University, for example, received 5,003 applications, representing an 18% increase from last year’s pool. Barnard College’s early application pool for the Class of 2021 rose 19% from last year. Wesleyan University in Connecticut reported that they received 16% more applications in the most recent round and Williams College reported a 25% increase.

More importantly, the acceptance rates for early application programs have also grown at many institutions. Dartmouth College accepted 28% of their early applicants, giving them the highest acceptance rate among the seven reporting Ivy League schools. Yale University accepted 17% of its Class of 2021 early applicants compared to a 6% overall acceptance rate for the Class of 2020. Middlebury College accepted 51% of its Class of 2021 early applicants compared to a 16% overall acceptance rate for the Class of 2020.

The table below reflects results of the Class of 2021 early admissions programs for top-tier colleges and universities that reported their number of early applicants accepted by January 6, 2017:

Institution Applied Accepted % Rate
Brown University 3,170 695 22
Cornell University 5,384 1,378 26
Dartmouth College 1,999 555 28
Duke University 1,999 861 24
Emory (Emory) University 1,494 474 32
Emory (Oxford) University 712 190 27
Georgetown University 7,822 931 12
Harvard University 6,473 938 14
Johns Hopkins University 1,934 657 31
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 8,394 657 8
Middlebury College 673 343 51
Princeton University 5,003 770 15
University of Pennsylvania 6,147 1,354 22
Williams College 728 257 35
Yale University 5,086 871 17

Below are a few additional notes concerning the results of this year’s round of early admissions programs:

  • Early applicant populations at top-tier schools contain a high percentage of STEM students.
  • While many top-tier schools report their early admission results, Stanford University has chosen not to release information on the number of early applicants and acceptances for the class of 2021. This is unusual, as this highly selective university has released such information in past years after decision notifications were issued. This may be due to the embarrassing fuss made in the media last year when Stanford reported a very low 4.7% overall acceptance rate for the Class of 2020.
  • For many early admission applicants, results don’t produce a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer but rather a deferred decision. This means that application will be considered again in a second round of early admissions decisions and/or in the Regular Decision round. For example, this year, Duke deferred 671 applicants, or 20% of the students who applied in the early round. New York University deferred 400 applicants, substantially more than last year.

Parents and students should bear in mind that early admissions programs are not all the same. There are a number of variations, but they fall within three general types; Early Decision, Early Action, and Single Choice Early Action. Be sure to check with your IvySelect college admissions consultant or your targeted institutions directly to be sure that you understand the ground-rules for each school’s program.


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