Every year, many selective colleges announce record numbers of early applications and lower admit rates.
There are several likely reasons for the increasing popularity of early admission programs. Early action applicants can have an acceptance before winter break, which lowers stress. Early decision acceptance rates are higher at some colleges, which may fill close to half of the freshman class early. Students who are hoping to get into the most selective schools feel pressure to apply early, even before they have thoroughly researched colleges, because they don’t want to miss out on the admissions edge they could get by applying early decision. Families see a diploma from an elite school as job insurance, and are often willing to commit to one of these expensive schools. Generous financial aid policies at the most selective schools enable needy students to apply without worrying about comparing financial aid packages.
There are benefits for colleges too. Admissions officers lock in a healthy percentage of the freshman class and don’t risk losing top students to other colleges. They see students who apply early decision as excited about attending the college and likely to contribute to campus life.
But there are other reasons for the high ED admit rates, including the fact that the early decision applicant pool is stronger. These are the most motivated students, who often have strong transcripts and test scores as well as impressive extracurricular accomplishments, and parental support in preparing early applications. Recruited athletes are also in the early pool, and there may be a good number of legacy applicants, and both of these groups can boost acceptance rates.
While applying ED can be helpful, it does not guarantee that you will have better prospects for admission. Sometimes it makes more sense to take the SAT or ACT one last time, earn top grades during fall semester and apply regular decision.
Juniors who want to be able to submit early applications should start preparing early in junior year. That includes setting up a standardized testing schedule and earning the best possible grades this year. Winter break is a good time to think about what you want in a college and to research the schools that seem interesting. Once you have a list of schools that you would like to visit, you can plan a college tour for spring break. If you find one school that you love, you will be ready to apply early.