Most colleges1 admit a far greater percentage of students who apply Early Decision (ED) or Early Action (EA) than they do of students who apply Regular Decision (RD). In fact, an article posted on usnews.com in December 2010 contains data on 52 colleges for which that was true. At that time the increased chances of gaining admission to those colleges by applying ED or EA instead of RD ranged from 1.41 to 2.98 – or an average of 1.88. In short, students who applied ED or EA to those colleges were, on average, almost twice as likely to get accepted as were those who applied RD.
The trend toward favoring admission for those who apply early has continued, as is demonstrated by a comparison of admission data for the Ivy League schools for 2014 and 2018. The table below shows the increased likelihood of gaining admission for students who applied ED or EA versus RD based on 2014 data, along with comparable data for 2018. For example, in 2014 ED applicants to Brown were 2.2 times more likely to gain admission than were RD applicants, and by 2018 that had increased to 3.67 times more likely. Note that the likelihood of gaining admission via ED or EA over RD increased for every one of the Ivies and that, on average, 2018 ED or EA applicants to those schools were more than three and one-half times as likely to gain admission than were RD applicants.
Here’s a closer look at 2018 admission data for the Ivies:
Further, there are additional data that show an accelerating pace of change -- percentages of the freshmen class filled by students who were ED or EA admits. On average, more than half of all acceptances at those colleges went to ED or EA applicants. Our early birds.
The Ivies are clearly among the most selective of colleges, but they’re far from alone in favoring ED and EA applicants. For an exhaustive examination and visualization of 2016 admission data from dozens of schools that offer ED and EA, we refer you to Higher Ed Data’s blogspot, here, where you’ll see graphic comparisons between ED/RD and EA/RD rates that you can filter by the colleges’ “self-described level of admissions difficulty.” Not surprisingly, only schools that consider themselves to be moderately, very, or most selective offer ED or EA.
What colleges are doing vis-à-vis ED/EA versus RD is clear, and here’s why they’re doing it:
- Getting an application in early shows greater interest, and there can be no greater interest shown than an ED application, which commits the student to accepting admission barring an economic hardship.
- Applying ED or EA substantially increases the chances that the student will enroll if offered admission, and that gives the schools a higher “yield rate,” which is the percentage of admitted students that actually enroll. Yield rate is something that colleges track carefully, in part so that they’ll know how many offers of admission to extend each year, and in part because having a high yield rate demonstrates that students really want to attend; that’s prestigious for those colleges — even leading to a higher ranking by US News and World Report. Information on colleges with high yield rates can be found here.
- Admitting students early reduces colleges’ needs to compete with other schools for prized students, and, by locking in its incoming class early, those colleges will be dealing with less uncertainty in the spring.
- Because of the effort involved in getting applications in early, colleges view ED/EA applicants as being more motivated and better organized.
- Colleges view early applicants as better students. In a 2010 interview for usnews.com, Brian Bava, then the Admissions Director (now the Vice President of Enrollment Management) for the College of Idaho, a private liberal arts college, reported admitting 97% of its EA applicants in 2009 because they tend to have better grades and test scores than do RD applicants.
- Athletics plays a role, because some schools' coaches push recruited athletes, who are pre-screened, to apply early in order to ensure mutual commitments: the students’ to attend and play, and the schools’ to admit them.
- Last, in the same usnews.com post mentioned above, J. Leon Washington, then the dean of admission at Lehigh University (now the dean of admission at Villanova) is quoted as saying that one of the reasons ED/EA applicants are so favored is that, "It is really difficult to say 'no' to outstanding young men and women who say, 'I love you. I want to be there.'"
Now that you know the “what” and “why” of ED and EA versus RD, early-bird thinking is a no-brainer (pun intended!): To substantially enhance your chances of getting admitted, apply EA whenever possible. And apply ED if a college truly steals your heart! In either case, however, if your academic record, test scores, extracurriculars, essays, etc. are not what a college is seeking, an EA or ED application is unlikely to help.
1Boston College, Georgetown University, and MIT admit roughly the same percentage of applicants who apply early action as they do applicants who apply regular decision.