Applying Early Proves Even More Crowded in 2018

With the number of high school graduates increasing the competition among these students for early admissions spots among the most selective colleges continues to escalate as well.

One reason is that the actual number of seats available in the most selective schools remains static. If you add up the fall 2018 class sizes among the Ivy League, MIT, University of Chicago, Northwestern, Duke, and Cal Tech, the total number of admissions spots available is around 21,000.  The total number of high school students projected to graduate in the US in spring 2018, according to Inside Higher Ed, is 3.5 million. If you take 1% of this number (we’ll assume the top 1% of the entire class) that amounts to 35,000 students, which already outstrips the total available seats at these schools.

Yet, early applications are not strictly limited to US high school graduates. Of Brown’s 738 early decision (ED) spots, “…students were accepted from 30 nations and 41 states…top countries represented include China, United Kingdom, Singapore, Canada, and Korea.”  Competition for early admissions is international in scope. To see the numbers behind ED and SCEA go to Top Tier’s statistical compilation at

Ostensibly, an early candidate’s chances of gaining admission appear numerically better.  During the 2018 ED round, Brown accepted 21% of its ED applicants, composing over 50% of the class for the year. However, realize that during ED, Brown lets in its legacy candidates (children of alumni and professors), recruited athletes, and key students (such as winners of the Intel ISEF who will bolster the physics or engineering departments). When one begins to take the chairs away for all these various groups, an unknown candidate’s chances, even early, are probably still around 8% or less.    

In any case, let’s look at the early numbers from the Ivy League to get a sense of how things stand for this year’s class.

Columbia received 4,085 and accepted 650 for an ED admissions rate of just less than 16%.  

Cornell received 6,319 applications and accepted 1,533, for an ED admissions rate of 24.3%. With a class size of 3,200, this means Cornell has just less than 50% of its 2018 class set from its early decision round. Over the last decade Cornell’s ED applicant pool has grown 75%.

Dartmouth’s ED pool increased to 2,270 students, of whom 565 were admitted. As with Cornell, Dartmouth’s class is just under 50% filled. Its total class size is 1200 students.

Harvard received 6, 630 Restrictive EA applications and accepted 14.5% of them or 964 students.

University of Pennsylvania pool of ED applicants rose to 7,074 applicants, of whom it accepted 18.5%, or 1,312 students. This filled 54% of the class, which numbers 2,445.

Princeton received 5,402 restrictive EA student applicants, and accepted 799, or 14.8%, of them. 15% were legacy.

Yale University received 5,733 restrictive EA applications, which was an increase of 12.7% from last year, and accepted 842 students, or 14.7%. The restricted EA admits represent 53% of Yale’s class of 1,550.

Applying early is fast becoming (more likely, already has become) essential for those applying to the most selective schools. Even outside the Ivy League at Duke and Northwestern for example, early application numbers are up 25%. The troubling aspect of the early route is that many of these schools are ED, which is binding. That’s great for the school because ED students know the college well and ED improves each school’s yield rate (the number of students who attend out of those who are admitted).  For the students, however, they have to attend, and they don’t have a lot of leverage in the financial aid discussions, but at least they don’t have to sit on edge till April wondering about their collegiate fates: instead, they might puzzle over why the system works like this.