Applying Early To The Most Selective Schools

 The competition for admissions, including early admissions, among the most selective colleges continues to be ever more competitive. While this fact is not particularly newsworthy, some of the facts behind it are.

Foremost,  the number of seats available in selective schools are declining.. Looking at the Ivy League schools along with Stanford and MIT, the total admits for fall 2009 was 28,600. For fall 2018 the total number admitted was 25,360, a decline of 11% over the decade.  

Comparing the fall class of 2009 matriculation numbers with those of fall 2018 one will find:  Brown’s number declined by 200; Columbia’s 300; Cornell, a whopping 1,300; Dartmouth’s 300; Harvard’s 200; Penn’s 300; Princeton’s 300; MIT’s 200; and, Stanford’s 400. The only school that increased its matriculation number over this decade is Yale, which just opened two new residential colleges, Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin. As President Peter Slovey noted, the fall 2018 class will be the largest in Yale history.  

The total number of high school students projected to have graduated in the US spring 2018 is 3.6 million. If you take 1% of this number (we’ll assume the top 1% of the entire class) that amounts to 36,000 students, which already outstrips the total available seats at these schools.

Additionally,, early applications are not strictly limited to US high school graduates. Brown’s 737 early decision (ED), “…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.

Ostensibly, an early candidate’s chances of gaining admission appear numerically better.  During the 2018 early round, Brown accepted 21% of its applicants, while during last year’s regular decision (RD)admissions rate was 7.2%.  However, realize that during its early round, Brown choosing 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, a candidate’s chances, even early, are probably still around 7- 8%.   

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

Columbia received 4,085 applications, accepting 650, for an ED admissions rate of 15%. All told Columbia accepted 2,214 freshmen for its fall 2018 class. The early acceptances compose 30% of the class.  

Cornell received 6,319 applications and accepted 1,533, for an ED admissions rate of 24%. With a class size of 5,288, this means Cornell has over 29% of its 2018 class set. Over the last decade Cornell’s ED applicant pool has grown 75%.

Dartmouth’s ED  was 2,270, an increase of 13.5% from last year, of whom 565 were admitted.

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

University of Pennsylvania pool of ED applicants was  7,074 applicants, of whom it accepted 25%, or 1,312 students.

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

Yale University received 5,733 restrictive EA applications and accepted 842 students, or 14.6%.

Applying early is fast becoming 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.