College Admissions: Demystifying Early Admissions 2013

Monday, July 29, 2013


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Playing the early admissions game may feel like a roll of the dice, but there are strategies for working the board.

Over the last 10 years, early admission programs have become an increasingly important aspect of college admissions. Many colleges are filling 30-70% of their freshman class via early action or early decision. So, students who wait to

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apply during regular decision are competing with far more students for a much smaller number of seats. Last year, Bowdoin, Williams, and UPENN filled almost 50% of their freshman class via early decision. Meanwhile, Duke and Northwestern filled about 40% and Brown gave away approximately 35% of their freshman seats in the early round. In the last few years, we saw an increasing number of colleges (Bates, Bowdoin, Bucknell, Tufts, etc.) adopting two rounds of early decision, one in November, and another in January. This year, the new trend emerging is that more colleges are offering both Early Action AND Early Decision (previously, they had offered one or the other, but rarely both). For those of you who are confused by the array of terms and restrictions, here are some key things that you need to know:

Early Decision

Early Decision (ED) is the most restrictive of the programs. Students may only apply to one college early decision, and if accepted they MUST attend. This is a binding program, and you are required to sign an agreement stating that you will matriculate at the college if accepted, and that you will withdraw any pending applications at other colleges upon acceptance. Deadlines usually fall in November and students are typically notified before Christmas if they are accepted, rejected or being deferred to the regular decision round. If you apply ED, you must be absolutely certain that the college is your first choice. The upside of ED is that at many schools the acceptance rate is dramatically higher. Brown University had an early decision acceptance rate for the class of 2017 of 19% and a regular decision rate of just 9%. Last year, Cornell accepted 30% of early decision candidates, but just 15% of regular decision applicants, and UPENN took 25% of early applicants vs. 12% of regular decision students. The downside to ED is that you can’t change your mind during senior year about where you want to go, and you don’t get a chance to compare financial aid packages. However, many colleges offering ED do have generous need-based financial aid.

Early Decision II

Early Decision II follows the same principles as ED, but is a later second round of Early Decision. It often falls 2-3 months after ED I and allows students a bit more time to solidify their commitment. In some cases, if a student is rejected or deferred in the ED I round at one college, they may be able to play out ED II at a second school (but only if they have received a letter of rejection or deferral before the ED II deadline). Statistics are just emerging on this relatively new trend, but it would seem that ED I acceptance rates are usually higher than ED II. It is important to note that no Ivy League colleges offer ED II.

Early Action (EA) and Priority Plans

These are much less restrictive programs than Early Decision because students may apply to several colleges under Early Action and Priority Decision rules, but they have until the spring to tell a college if they will attend. Deadlines usually fall in November and December, and decisions are issued in about 4-8 weeks. Students can be accepted, rejected, or deferred to regular decision. Although not quite as favorable statistically as ED, most colleges do accept a higher percentage of students during EA. The advantage is that if accepted, some students find senior year less stressful. There are very few disadvantages since you aren’t locked into attending under EA or Priority plans. Families can also play out all their financial aid options at a variety of schools (unlike ED), and some colleges issue more favorable aid packages earlier in the admissions season when money is more plentiful.

Restrictive or Single Choice Early Action

A few colleges like Princeton, Yale, Georgetown and Boston College have opted to craft specific rules for their Early Action programs which may preclude you from applying to other colleges Early Decision or Early Action. You must read the individual rules very carefully for these programs; they vary from school to school. For the class of 2016, Harvard accepted approximately 18% percent of applicants in the EA round, but roughly 6% in the regular decision round, and Yale accepted almost 15% early but just under 7% during the later round.


Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC which provides strategic, college counseling and athletic recruiting services for students.


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