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Early Decision Applications Are Soaring: Here's Why

Early decision college applications are more popular than ever this year.
At least that's the conclusion that you can draw from the early decision tally that The New York Times conducted this week.

Many elite schools that accept early decision and/or early action applications are experiencing more students applying to college through the early bird options.

Vanderbilt University, for instance, received 1,666 early decision applications this year, which represents a 30% jump. Northwestern University's early decision applications (2,127) soared 26% and the University of Chicago's early action applications increased 18.5%.

Students are applying earlier because at many schools they enjoy a greater chance of acceptance. Some schools are filling half of their classes with students who apply to college early. I discussed this phenomenon in a recent college blog post:

The Latest Scoop on College Admissions

2011-2012 Early Decision Statistics

Percentage increase or decrease in early decision applications from last year:
  • Amherst College -5%
  • Bates College 4%
  • Brown University -3%
  • Bowdoin College 10%
  • Bucknell College 30%
  • Columbia University 8%
  • Dartmouth College 12%
  • Dickinson College 15%
  • Duke University 14%
  • Elon University -15%
  • George Washington U. 19%
  • Haverford College 14%
  • Johns Hopkins U. 14%
  • Lehigh University 14%
  • Middlebury College < 1%
  • Northwestern U. 26%
  • U. of Pennsylvania 18%
  • Pomona College <1%
  • U. of Rochester 0%
  • Sarah Lawrence 15%
  • Vanderbilt U. 30%
  • Virginia Tech <1%
  • Williams College 1%

2011-2012 Early Action Statistics

Percentage increase or decrease in early action applications from last year:
  • University of Chicago 18.5%
  • Emerson College 11%
  • Fordham University 8%
  • MIT 14%
  • Santa Clara U. 27%
  • Villanova U. 25%
  • Boston College 7%
  • Stanford U. 7%
  • Yale University < 1%

What's Wrong with Early Decision and Early Action Applications?

For those who wish the admission process was fairer, the increase in early decision and early action applications is discouraging. Why? It's largely rich students, who benefit from applying early.

A 2006 press release from Harvard University's interim president Derek Bok, which explained why the university was dropping its early action program, summed up the objections to these early application programs:

"Early admission programs tend to advantage the advantaged. Students from more sophisticated backgrounds and affluent high schools often apply early to increase their chances of admission, while minority students and students from rural areas, other countries, and high schools with fewer resources miss out. Students needing financial aid are disadvantaged by binding early decision programs that prevent them from comparing aid packages. Others who apply early and gain admission to the college of their choice have less reason to work hard at their studies during their final year of high school."

Is Harvard Going to Do the Wrong Thing?

For those who want to congratulate Harvard for doing the right thing, hold your applause. Few of Harvard's peers ditched their early application programs so the Cambridge institution is revisiting its decision. And you can probably guess what that means.

Lynn O'Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes for TheCollegeSolutionBlog.
Vanderbilt image by jimmywayne. CC 2.0.

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