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Class of 2017 Early Application Results from Highly Selective Colleges: What Do They Indicate?

college application with pen

In the last few weeks, early acceptances have come out from many of the most selective schools in the country, leaving many students thrilled and relieved that they have been admitted to the school of their choice, others distressed that the school that they wanted didn’t want them, and still others in a state of limbo having been deferred to the regular applicant pool.  Whatever the case, one thing is clear: more and more students are choosing to apply early to the most competitive schools and this is changing the dynamics of the admissions process.senior_class_of_2017_green_postcards-p239584919108648581en8sh_325
With the exception of Dartmouth, which saw a decrease in its applications of ~12.5% (which we hypothesize is due to the relatively recent bad press that the school received about its Greek life), and Cornell, who has not reported final numbers, yet, the balance of the Ivy League schools saw an increase in early applications over last year.  Harvard, for example, reported a whopping 15% more applications for the Class of 2017 than for the Class of 2016.  Other highly selective schools such as MIT (up 9%) and Northwestern (up 7%) also saw a significant increase in their early application numbers year over year.
While many schools haven’t reported their early results, here is a chart that we pulled together to give you a flavor of what’s been happening out there.  It details selected highly competitive schools and their early admissions acceptance rates.  If you follow overall admissions rates at these types of schools, you’ll see that the Early Admit Rates noted below are significantly higher than each school’s historic overall admit rates.

School Early Plan Early Applicants Accepted Early Early Admit Rate
Brown ED 3,010 558 18.5%
Dartmouth ED 1,574 464 29.5%
Duke ED 2,540 753 29.6%
Harvard SCEA 4,856 895 18.4%
Johns Hopkins ED 1,450 530 36.6%
MIT EA 6,541 650 9.9%
Northwestern ED 2,625 885 33.7%
Princeton SCEA 3,810 697 18.3%
Stanford SCEA 6,103 725 11.9%
U Pennsylvania ED 4,812 1,196 24.9%
Williams ED 584 248 42.5%
Yale SCEA 4,514 649 14.4%

In doing my research, I also noted that a number of the schools deferred a significant portion of their early applicants to the Regular Decision pool.  Yale, for example, deferred over 55% of its early applicants, Brown seems to have deferred around 70% and Dartmouth 35%.  Anecdotally, it seems that MIT has also deferred a tremendous number of its applicants, but we don’t have any firm numbers.
These deferral numbers indicate that the schools are getting early applications from large numbers of qualified candidates, and the schools are not prepared to say “no” until they see what the Regular Decision pool brings.  Still, the schools are also not prepared to say “yes” to these applicants, either, and historically, the number of deferred applicants who ultimately get admitted are few.
The schools that offer an Early Decision plan seem to be filling an unbelievable 40%+ of their freshman class from their early applications.  This means that students who apply Regular Decision to these very selective schools will have an even tougher go of it simply because there are fewer slots to fill.  A while ago, I wrote a blog post trying to answer the question:  Is it easier to get in if you apply early?  Many of the points in that post are relevant here.  Essentially, early applicants most definitely benefit from indicating that a school is their top pick and applying early, but only if the candidate meets the admissions standards of the school in the first place.
The sad part about this current situation is that because qualified students appear to have an advantage if they apply early to these highly competitive institutions, candidates are using early application plans as a strategy to gain admission, even if they are not sure that a given school is actually where they want or ought to go.  Especially if they apply as part of a binding ED program, then whether they are sure or not, if they get in, that’s where they will have to go.  These dynamics are forcing students to make their decisions about college several months earlier in their high schools careers when, perhaps, they haven’t had time to fully explore their options and figure out what is best for them.
The lesson is that if students believe that they might be interested in applying to highly selective schools, they should start their research early.  Applying early can be advantageous, but don’t apply early to a school simply because it is a name brand.  In doing so, other options might be shut out that would ultimately be more suitable.
Andrea Aronson
College Admissions Consultant
Westfield, NJ


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