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You are here: Home > Online Articles > Alarming Trends in Early Decision & Early Action Acceptance Rates



Alarming Trends in Early Decision & Early Action Acceptance Rates

By Martin Walsh


Over ten years ago, I accepted a college counseling position at the Harker School. My first fall as a counselor felt busy; after all, half of my students were sending off early applications. How I long for those halcyon days! This year 100 percent of the students I counseled sent off early applications. This made for an incredibly busy fall and a stressful December.

Not surprisingly, my experience at Harker is part of a global trend. More students are applying in the early round than ever before. In December, Brown, Dartmouth, Duke, Penn, and Northwestern reported double-digit increases in applications. Here are some sobering statistics:

1. Brown saw its largest ever early-decision applicant pool, with 3,502 applicants, representing an increase of nearly 11 percent. From this pool, 738 students were admitted, for an overall early-decision admit rate of 21 percent.

2. Dartmouth experienced a 13.5 percent increase in early-decision applications. They admitted 565 students, for an admit rate of 25 percent.

3. Duke posted huge gains in the early-decision round, as they received 4,090 applications for an increase of 16 percent. Not surprisingly, the admit rate dropped to 21.4 percent, representing 875 admits.

4. UPenn experienced an impressive 15 percent increase in early-decision applicants, with 7,074 students submitting applications. Of these, 1,312 were admitted, meaning their rate of admission in “early” dipped to 18.5 percent. It was 22.03 percent last year.

5. Northwestern had 4,058 applicants vie for early decision this year. This is a 6 percent increase over last year—and that’s on top of a 26 percent increase the year before. Twenty-six percent were admitted early decision, meaning 1,073 students got the nod in early.

The Early Decision Advantage

While early-admission offers are starting to feel as rare as a snowstorm in Florida, it remains the best—and often only—opportunity available to applicants. To illustrate my point, let’s take a look at Northwestern University. Earlier, I focused on Northwestern’s depressingly low 26 percent admit rate. However, the number of admits (1,073) is equally scary. To explain, only 1,985 students will make up Northwestern’s entering class. Meaning, 54 percent of the class is filled and admission officers have yet to review a single regular-decision application.
Northwestern is not alone. Duke, Washington University, Dartmouth, and Penn have also filled over half their class in the early round! Clearly, this is not good news for applicants in the regular decision pool.

Major Matters

Can applying under a certain major affect your chances of admission? Most certainly. This is particularly the case for applicants interested in STEM fields, such as engineering and computer science, or such specialized areas as nursing or business. For example, while the admission rate to Carnegie Mellon overall is around 23 percent, the admission rate to the college of engineering is 10 percent. Even tougher is Carnegie’s School of Computer Science, with an admission rate of 7 percent.

This year’s early results confirmed that applications to the field of Computer Science (CS) are on a hockey-stick trajectory and show no signs of improving from the perspective of hopeful applicants. At Stanford University, declared CS enrollments went from 87 in the 2007–08 academic year to nearly 400 in the recently completed year. Professor Mehran Sahami, who is the associate chair for education in the CS department at Stanford, believes the enrollment trend will continue. “As the numbers bear out, the interest in computer science has grown tremendously and shows no signs of crashing.”

What does this all mean?

It means that schools may in fact be reach schools or worse once the program of study is evaluated. That is a surprise no one wants, and that is why it is important to try to track this information down for schools of interest to your rising seniors.

By using departmental rates and profiles, counselors will have a much better chance of assessing a student’s list for balance, managing expectations, and ensuring better outcomes come April. Unfortunately, locating admissions data by department or program of study can be a challenge, as most institutions choose not to make this information publicly available and it isn’t reported in the Common Data Set.

If working with students interested in one of these “popular” programs, I strongly encourage counselors to get on the phone and speak with admission offices. Try to collect as much data as possible while also encouraging students looking to study computer science or business/finance to create a robust list, filled with multiple safety schools.

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