Applying Early Proves Even More Crowded in 2013

With the number of high school graduates ebbing, many believed that the competition for early admissions spots among the most selective colleges would ebb as well: quite the opposite occurred.

One reason for this conundrum is the actual number of seats available in the most selective schools is static. If you add up the fall 2014 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 2014 is 3.2 million. If you take 1% of this number (we’ll assume the top 1% of the entire class) that amounts to 32,000 students, which already outstrips the total available seats at these schools.

Yet, early applications are not strictly limited to US high school graduates. Brown’s 583 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 2014 ED round, Brown accepted 19% of its applicants, while during last year’s regular decision (RD), the admissions rate was 8%. However, realize that during ED, Brown is letting 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%.    

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.

Brown had an ED applicant pool of 3,088, up 5% from last year, taking 583 students, a 19% acceptance rate; Brown’s total expected freshman class size is 1,515, so with ED students, Brown now has over 38% of its Class of 2018 selected.

Columbia received 3,296 applications, up 5%, though it has not released admissions data.

Cornell received 4,775 applications and accepted 1,325, for an ED admissions rate of 27.7%. With a class size of 3,200, this means Cornell has over 40% of its 2018 class set. Over the last decade Cornell’s ED applicant pool has grown 75%.

Dartmouth’s ED pool increased 6% to 1,678 students, of whom 469 were admitted. As with Cornell, Dartmouth’s class is 40% filled.

Harvard received 4,692 Restrictive EA applications and accepted 21% of them or 992 students.

University of Pennsylvania pool of ED applicants rose 6% to 5,149 applicants, of whom it accepted 25%, or 1,299 students. This filled over 50% of the class.

Princeton received 3,831 restrictive EA student applicants, and accepted 714, or 18.5%, of them. 15% were legacy.

Yale University received 4,750 restrictive EA applications and accepted 735 students, or 15.5%, while 2,735 students were deferred, and 1,225 were rejected.

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.