When high school seniors considered which prestigious colleges to apply to, they probably thought of applying early to their best choice. Early Decision (ED) is a binding decision, which means that if accepted, the student is required to withdraw their other applications and enroll in the school. Typically, the only way out of the ED-binding contract is due to insufficient financial aid.
Not only do universities get the chance to snare some of the brightest students early in their freshman class, but students also benefit from these kinds of decisions and will often see higher acceptance rates. Many top schools such as Brown University, Rice University, Cornell University, and Duke University have an Early Decision option. In the past few years, as more schools have introduced test-optional policies, acceptance rate trends have changed rapidly. Here are some of the changes from this past cycle.
More students are adopting early decision
In recent years, admissions officers have seen an increase in the number of students choosing ED, making it more competitive than ever. Brown University received 6,770 early decision applicants, a 10% increase from the previous year. According to their website, this is the fifth year in a row that the number of applicants for ED has increased. Dartmouth College saw a 14% increase in ED applicants and had a lower acceptance rate (19%) than the previous two years. Yale University also saw a significant increase; the early application pool for the Class of 2027 was 35% larger than that of the Class of 2024.
More underrepresented students will be admitted
Universities continue to prioritize accepted underrepresented or first-generation students. For Washington University in St. Louis, 12% of ED admissions qualify for the Pell Grant and 13% are the first in their family to attend college. At Johns Hopkins University, 17% of admitted students are the first in their family to attend college. Of Dartmouth College’s accepted students, 17% came from low-income areas.
Big changes in acceptance rates
Some schools either had a significant drop in acceptance rates or, perhaps more surprisingly, an increase. For example, Vanderbilt accepted 24.1% of its ED applicants this year, compared to 17.6% in the 2021-22 cycle. Northeastern saw a similar increase, with nearly 6% more ED applicants than the previous year. However, quite a few schools saw the opposite: Duke’s ED acceptance rate dropped by about 5% and the University of Georgia early acceptance rate dropped by nearly 10% compared to the 2022-23 application cycle.
Universities of applied sciences do not release data
Last year, Princeton University, Columbia University, Stanford University and Cornell University did not release their early action and early decision adoption rates. This year they are continuing this trend, with the University of Pennsylvania joining them. Since 2018, Stanford has opted not to release the data because it has no interest in being part of the “race” to become the most competitive schools. “It’s not something that allows students to find a university that best suits their interests, which should be the focus of the entire process,” explains Stanford Provost Persis Drell.
More students will test Optional
Michaela Schieffer, a counselor at Moon Prep, says test-optional is here to stay for now. Test-Optional may be a strong option for students with a solid academic record and strong extracurricular activities, but who were unable to achieve a high score on any of the standardized tests. Schieffer explains that many more of her students follow this route. This year, 38% of admitted ED1 Emory College students and 41% of admitted ED1 Oxford students have not submitted a test score.