A number of the most selective colleges in the US are reporting near-record numbers of students applying for early admission, the Wall Street Journal recently stated.
Applications for both binding early-decision, and the more flexible early-action option increased last year at elite schools including Harvard University and Brown University. Many schools have canceled their testing requirements and campus visits due to the COVID pandemic and are still trying to decide if students who deferred admission last year would take spots from this year’s applicants.
Early-decision applications were down this year at the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, and Columbia University from fall 2020. However, the numbers were still higher than those reported by the schools in other recent admissions cycles.
Columbia’s early-decision applications were down an insignificant 2% this year at 6,305 applications, but that figure is still 40% higher than the previous record. Dartmouth received a miniscule 1% fewer early-decision applications, while Penn received 2% fewer.
In contrast, Brown University reported 11% more early-decision applications. This may be due to the school’s expanded financial aid program.
The number of applicants for Yale University’s restrictive early-action program was marginally lower than last year, but was higher than 2019. Yale does not allow applicants to apply to additional private colleges in the early-admissions round. Students can submit applications to other schools in the regular application round and need not commit until spring.
Yale had 7,288 students apply through the early-action program. Of these, 11% were admitted.
Harvard had 9,406 students apply through early-action, and admitted 7.9%. This represents a marginally higher admit rate and lower applicant rate than last year.
Changes in testing and reporting
COVID continues to affect college admissions requirements. Harvard will extend its test-optional policy for a minimum of four years, as some students have difficulty accessing test sites due to the pandemic.
Hundreds of other colleges, including the most selective, have stated that they will remain test-optional for at least the next couple of years. Some are permanently abandoning testing requirements. According to FairTest, a nonprofit that encourages less reliance on standardized tests, nearly 80% of undergrad programs are not requiring current high school seniors to take either the SAT or ACT. Other top-tier schools will likely join Harvard in moving to a test-optional model as they compete for the same applicants.
Princeton University stated that it would stop releasing application or acceptance numbers for early or regular admission cycles.
According to Princeton’s admissions website, “We know this information raises the anxiety level of prospective students and their families and, unfortunately, may discourage some prospective students from applying.”
Stanford was the first to stop reporting this data in 2018, when it stated that they it would de-emphasize the apparent value of low acceptance rates. Cornell University has also said it would stop publicizing such detailed data.
The early bird catches the acceptance letter?
Applicants in the early admissions rounds usually have a much higher chance of being accepted than those who wait for the regular decision cycle.
Early admissions applicants tend to come from wealthier families – and are therefore less likely to need to wait for competitive financial aid offers – and attend high schools with more vigorous college counseling services. FairTest reported that nearly 60% of students who submitted the Common Application through November 16 lived in the most prosperous 20% of nationwide ZIP codes, compared to 5% of applicants from the least prosperous 20% ZIP codes.
As each student submits more college applications, the schools are having a more difficult time predicting the yield, that is, how many students will go on to enroll. A close approximation of the yield is crucial in making decisions regarding how many students to accept and, in turn, enrollment numbers determine a school’s allocation of resources. Accepting too many students can cause a school to run out of housing or classroom space, whilst too few can lead to lack of revenue.
Many schools have mitigated this level of unpredictability by offering binding admissions decisions, thereby guaranteeing a portion of their enrollment. Some of these schools – including the most selective – are now filling half of their freshman classes with early commits.
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