I believe whether to apply early or not is the single most frequently asked question to us. The students main concerns are whether they should apply for ED and/or REA. ED means “Early Decision” and REA means “Restricted Early Action”.
For the first time in 6+ years, Harvard registered an increase in their early action acceptance rate to 13.9 percent, which makes a total of 6,424 students in 2019. But there was a decrease in the number of early applications received in the previous year (2018) by 537 applications, which is a 7.7 percent decrease. Meanwhile, Brown University recorded a low acceptance rate of 17.5 percent, a total of 800 students. Out of the 17.5 percent, 17 percent are first generation college students. But even with these insights, determining whether or not you should apply early is still a critical question that needs a more in-depth understanding.
First, lets just go through the different terminologies associated with applications:
1. Early Decision (ED) I & II
There are two types of the early decision - one and two. But what is an early decision? This is an application program that lets you apply to one college and the application is a binding: you’re obliged to withdraw any other applications upon admission. ED I usually has deadlines by October 31st and you colleges will start sending rejections or acceptance letters probably by mid-December. You may as well receive a deferral letter, which prompts you to apply for the second time during the regular decision and find out whether you can secure a place by April.
Popular colleges who accept ED 1 applications include Duke, Vanderbilt, Boston University, Dartmouth, Brown, NYU, Columbia, Pennsylvania University, among others. It is also important to note that colleges that were initially offering early decision are now providing early decision II, which you should do by January. Now, when you opt for this, you should expect to get feedback about your application by February.
Some of the colleges with early decision II include Brandeis, Smith, Vanderbilt, Bowdoin, Tufts, Emory, among others.
2. Early Action
Unlike the Early Decision program, which is a binding agreement, Early action is a non-binding application program. Usually, students applying for the early action are required to submit their applications by mid-November latest.
By mid-December, you should be receive an acceptance, rejection, or deferral. This is non-binding and therefore you could apply to other colleges as well even if you get accepted.
Some Early Action schools include Georgetown, Stanford, Yale, Villanova, CalTech, Princeton, Havard, Virginia, and MIT.
3. Restrictive Early Action
Now, here is where students start going bonkers. The only difference here compared to Early Action is that you cannot apply to any other college early. It’s still non-binding but you cannot apply to any other college early – applying in the regular decision stage is fine.
4. Regular Decision
The applications stage that everyone is familiar with. This is the stage that a majority of your applications will go out by and you will receive your application decision before 1st April.
Some colleges provide for rolling admission. Colleges with rolling admissions evaluate applications as they are received versus waiting to evaluate all applications after a hard deadline.
Schools will continue to evaluate applications until they’ve filled all the slots for their incoming class. Colleges provide a large window for application compared to the other windows – admissions are often stretched to May.
Now that you know the basics, let’s start figuring out whether you should apply early or not.
So, Should You Apply Early or Not?
Over the last 10 years, I have helped thousands of students apply to college, and I have recommended 99% of the students to apply early. With the statistical boost universities give to early applicants, you would almost always be foolish not to apply early.
The only reason why students do not apply early is because they are either lazy or overwhelmed with the college application process. The only acceptable reason for not applying early is for the following two reasons:
- You will be giving your SAT or ACT in November or December and are almost certain to see a significant boost (100+ points on the SAT, 3+ points on the ACT) on your last attempt’s scores.
- You had a significant dip in grades junior year but are confident they will get straight As in the first semester of your senior year (or Grade 12)
However, It is very important to arrive at a decision as early as possible. The below image shows data available for the year 2020 on some of the top universities shows that proves that apply early does indeed improve your chances for admissions.
As you can see from figure above, the early decision rate is almost 4 times more than the regular admission rate. Please see below for some of the regular and early decision numbers for the Ivy league universities.
As you can see from figure, the early decision rate is almost 4 times more than the regular admission rate.
Let’s walkthrough the early application numbers of some colleges.
1. Harvard University
For the class of 2023, Harvard University received a total of 6.958 early student applications and admitted 935 students out of that number, which is 13.44%.
The Regular Decision admission rate is 4.5%
2. University of Pennsylvania
UPenn received a whopping 7,110 ED student applications for the class of 2023. Penn accepted 1,279 students from the applications received, which is 18% acceptance rate.
The Regular Decision admission rate rate for UPenn is 6%
3. Princeton University
Princeton received 5,335 EA student applications and accepted 14% or 743 students for the 2023 class.
The Regular Decision admission rate for Princeton is 5.4%
4. Yale University
In 2020, Yale University had an increase in the number of early applications they received - from 5,733 last year to 6,020 applications received this year. With this overwhelming number of EA student applications, Yale University managed to admit 794 EA (or 13%) candidates for their 2023 class. This was a drop from their 2022 class of admission of 842 students.
The Regular Decision admission rate for Yale is 6.2%
You get the idea. You can easily google the numbers to find the regular and early admission statistics for the universities you are applying too.
So, the question is why are the acceptance rates for early applications so much higher than those of regular applications.
It's simple: Colleges care about yield. Yield is the number of students who got accepted that chose to attend the college. With ED being restructure, the yield for ED are nearly 100% (that is actually the reason why ED was created in the first place). The yield for colleges for EA is also significantly higher than the yield for regular decisions.
Example: U Chicago shifted recently from EA to ED and their yield increased by 72%.
Also remember that the admissions decisions for early application will come to you before Christmas (usually on or around Dec 15). If you are accepted to your dream university, you can be stress free the rest of the year.
You can actually enjoy seeing your friends struggle and stress out about the applications while you binge on Netflix.
Now, lets move on to the next important question:
Do I apply ED or EA?
It’s pretty simple again - apply early to your dream university (unless you cannot afford your dream university and waiting to hear on scholarship offers before applying there).
If you apply ED - especially if you apply ED to a top 10 or top 20 university - simultaneously apply EA to other schools, as well. For example, if your dream school is Columbia, apply ED to Columbia and EA to other schools that allow it such as MIT, University of Michigan, and Georgia Tech (to name a few).
Some prestigious schools like Stanford, Princeton, etc. provide the option of restricted Early Action which is non-binding. But then the students who have already applied for the Restricted Early Action option for the admission at these universities cannot apply at any other universities under the same option. Those students can then opt for regular decision.
Applying for Restricted Early Decision does not guarantee the same success rate which we observed in the case of Early Decision. Many highly selective colleges have the Restricted Early action admission rates in single digits which doesn’t augur well for the students who opt for this option at the highly selective colleges. There is always a possibility that colleges may change their admission related policies later on.Hence students need to carefully take an informed decision on what exactly they want to do in this case.
I always recommend students apply to at least two universities early—their dream university and a target school.
Word of Caution
Remember that applying ED is binding, which means it’s next to impossible to get out of. You need to make sure that your Early Decision school is where you want to go, period.
You must also consider the impact Early Decision will have on your financial aid. Early Decision is binding even if you don’t get all the financial aid you need. While lots of students get financial aid during Early Decision, the problem is you can’t compare packages because you’ve signed a contract and committed to going there if accepted. However, if you do the net price calculator and that school’s calculator gives you a financial aid number that works for you and then you don’t receive that amount of aid from them, you can get out of the contract. As such, if you’ve done the FAFSA, you want to apply early, and you’re not sure if your top-choice will give you the most financial aid, applying Early Action is the better way to go if it’s an option
There are a ton of advantages that come with both early action and early decision admission policies. If you are really serious about attending your dream university, figure the university’s early application guidelines and apply early there.