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Competitive But Inconsistent: This Year’s Early Application Cycle

By Martin Walsh, TIE columnist

03/22/2019

Competitive But Inconsistent: This Year’s Early Application Cycle
By Martin Walsh

Things felt a little different this year. Early application numbers and results were equally competitive but less consistent.

What do we know so far?

Well, unlike past years that saw big gains in everyone’s early numbers, this year was more of a mixed bag. Some universities continued to show a tremendous growth in early application numbers. Brown’s early decision application volume zoomed up 21 percent and Duke notched a nearly 20 percent increase in applications.

Other highly selective ED schools saw more modest growth. Columbia and Yale saw growth that was under 10 percent. And, a few key schools are reporting slight decreases in early volume, Penn and Harvard included.

Some deans and admission officers I spoke with in December postulate that we’ve reached a natural ceiling to the early application cycle. Some students are opting out of the early cycle; others are being more strategic in how they use their early option, aiming for a surer bet rather than going for the long shot.

Early admission case studies

Yale University
• Yale College offered admission to 794 applicants for the Class of 2023 through its early action program.
• Yale also offered admission to 55 students through the QuestBridge National College Match program. This is the highest number of students Yale has “matched” through QuestBridge since its partnership with the organization began in 2007.
• Earlier this fall, Yale announced that the current first-year class of students—the Class of 2022—set records for socio-economic diversity. Quinlan reported that a record 311 students in the first-year class (20 percent) are recipients of federal Pell Grants for low-income students. This is almost double the number of Pell Grant recipients who matriculated just five years ago (157 students in fall 2013). A record 284 students (18 percent) will be the first in their families to graduate from a four-year college. This is a 75 percent increase in the number of first-generation students compared with the class that matriculated five years ago.

Dartmouth College
• From a pool of applicants that numbered 2,474, Dartmouth admitted 574 students to the Class of 2023 (23 percent admit rate).
• The admitted group includes 25 students who applied through QuestBridge.
• Hooks are clearly at play in the early group admitted to Dartmouth. A third of those admitted are students of color and fourteen percent are the first in their families to go to college (a record high for Dartmouth). Twenty percent of those admitted are legacies and twenty-five percent are recruited athletes. Altogether, these students will comprise 50 percent of Dartmouth’s incoming first-year class.

Princeton University
• Princeton offered admission to 743 students from a pool of 5,335 candidates (13.9 percent of the pool), making this year’s early action process the most competitive since the school reinstated early action in 2011. It looks like Princeton chose to admit 56 fewer Single-Choice Early Action (SCEA) students this round—allowing it to post its record low admit rate.
• Some additional interesting tidbits about the Princeton SCEA admits are that 50 percent are domestic students of color (African American, Asian American, Latino, and Native American) and another 10 percent are international citizens. Fifteen percent are alumni children.
• A full 21 percent want to study engineering.

University of Pennsylvania
• In total, Penn counts 7,112 students in its early decision pool, a 0.22 percent increase from the prior year. This year’s plateau comes on the heels of a record-breaking 15 percent increase in early decision applications for the Class of 2022. A total of 1,279 students were admitted early (17.9 percent), making up 53 percent of the incoming class.
• Women outpace men in the early group, making up 51 percent of those admitted.
• The diversity of the early group includes 48 percent students of color and 13 percent international students. Twenty-three percent are children of Penn alumni; 11 percent are the first in their families to go to college.

Harvard University
• Harvard notes a five-percentage-point increase in early application volume, to 6,958 submitted applications, leading to a 13.4 percent admit rate.
• Dean Bill Fitzsimmons makes special note of the numbers of women admitted at this stage: women make up 51.3 percent of the admitted class, up four percentage points from last year at the same time.
• The other interesting headline from the Harvard results is that the number of Asian American students admitted increased by two percentage points. Perhaps not altogether that surprising, given both the composition of the applicant pool and the intense legal and public scrutiny Harvard’s admissions process has been experiencing of late.

Early cycle trends
I shared with you these early results not because I am obsessed with Ivy League schools. Rather, these results illustrate national trends impacting the application cycle. Namely:
• The year of the woman extends beyond Congress to the university. Harvard, especially, points to increased numbers of women who plan to major in both Physical Sciences and Computer Science.
• Diversity of background continues to be a key priority in the selection process. Specifically, admission officers giving a “bump” to students coming from difficult economic backgrounds. This, of course, explains why so many admission offices are working actively to build more diversity into their applicant pools through targeted outreach and partnerships with organizations like QuestBridge.
• Many schools with binding early decision programs will admit 45–50+ percent of their incoming class through the early process. Doing so ensures that they can lock in a solid foundation for their incoming class and reduce yield volatility.




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