The Odds of Applying Early Decision

Should you apply early decision to your favorite college or university?
I know fall has arrived because I’ve started receiving questions about early decision. I’ll be addressing early decision and early action issues in the coming weeks, but I wanted to answer a question that I received today from a mother, who heard me give a talk recently in Southern California.

A Question About Early Decision

Here is the mom’s email:
My daughter fell in love with Occidental College after she visited (twice!) and made an interview with the admission officer. So she would like to go with early decision (ED) to Oxy.
However, I just found that the acceptance rate may not be higher than the one with regular application. A site says that the rate is the same as the regular’s, and the book I have says it is even lower than the regular’s.
Oh my gosh, then how come is there any benefit to apply early if those articles are true? Have you seen those statistics that shows lower acceptance rate with ED?

Applying Early Decision

Students who apply early decision at many schools often have an admission advantage. In 2010, for instance, the acceptance rate for early decision applications across the country was 70% versus 55% of all applicants, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
The California mom is right, however, in observing that there doesn’t seem to an ED admission boost at Occidental, a liberal arts college in Los Angeles. When I checked, Occidental’s recent regular admission acceptance rate was 42% and the ED acceptance rate was 39%.

Early Decisions Acceptances

Contrast Occidental’s ED rate with the ED acceptances of other elite schools during the last admission season:

  • Bates College                            51%
  • Bowdoin College                      34%
  • Bucknell  University                61%
  • Colgate University                   60%
  • Columbia University                45%
  • Dartmouth U.                            25%
  • Dickinson College                     69%
  • Franklin and Marshall             81%
  • Harvey Mudd College               29%
  • Haverford College                     49%
  • Kenyon College                          60%
  • Northwestern U.                        34%
  • Pitzer College                              45%
  • U. of Pennsylvania                     26%
  • Rice University                           29%
  • Sara Lawrence                            67%
  • Smith College                             59%
  • Vanderbilt U.                             30%
  • William & Mary                         50%

I pulled the figures above from The  New York Times’ college blog. Last year the newspaper collected ED stats from mostly highly selective schools. Here is the early decision statistics link.
A great way to find out early decision stats for any school that has this admission option — most don’t — is to head to the College Board. Use the search box to call up the profile of any school and then click on its Admissions link. Scroll down and you will find statistics on the number of students who applied early decision in the last admission season and the number who were accepted. Here is an example for Columbia University:

Columbia accepted 21.6% of its Early Decision applicants. In comparison, it’s overall acceptance rate last year was just 10%.
When looking at ED stats, another thing to keep in mind is what percentage of students are selected in the ED round. A very high number are accepted at plenty of elites schools. At Columbia, for instance, 45% of the class was accepted ED.

What to Do

Frankly, I think you can over analyze these stats. In the case of the Southern California teenager, she loves Occidental and that’s really what ED is for. It’s for teens who absolutely know where they want to attend college next fall. I’d suggest the teenager ask her admission counselor at Occidental about whether to apply early decision, but I suspect the advice she hears will be to go for it.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes college blogs for CBSMoneyWatch and US News & World Report.

 Read More on The College Solution:

Early Decision Applications Are Soaring: Here’s Why
Case Study: Applying Early Decision

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