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Early applications have an edge in college admissions

Dear Ivy League Guru,

I am a senior in high school and have a question about the college application process. Should I apply under early action or regular decision? My application is ready to send, but I want to know which choice gives me the best odds for admission. I would also like to know what you think is the most important item on the application.

High School Senior

Dear Student,

Here are some numbers to crunch when considering whether to apply to top colleges under early or regular admission.

More than 37,000 students applied to Harvard last year. Of that number 5.6 percent were admitted. But that is not the full story. Harvard admitted 977 of 5,919 applicants under early action for an admit rate of 16.6 percent. The admit rate for students applying under regular admission was 2.8 percent. The freshman class enrolled 1,665. The yield rate (those students who accepted) was 80 percent. The other 20 percent opted for MIT, Caltech and Berkeley, which are frequently among the other top choices.

The Harvard Crimson reported Yale's early admits were 16 percent with an overall admit rate at 6.5 percent for a yield of 69.5 percent. Stanford admitted 10.2 percent under early action for an overall admission rate of 5 percent. Princeton admitted 19.9 percent of the early admits with an overall admit rate of 7.1 percent. MIT admitted 9.6 percent of early admits with overall admit rate of 8.3 percent. It's yield was 73 percent.

This random selection of colleges suggests that students who apply under early admission clearly have an edge. That answers your first question.

As to the one application item that I think you should pay most attention to, I would say the essays.

Top grades and test scores used to rule in the admissions process. With the increase of so many international students over the last 10 years this advantage has become more of an expectation than a rarity. International students tend to bring higher test scores to the admissions process and that puts pressure on domestic students competing with them. There is now a leveling out or plateau at the top when thousands of international students score in the top 5 percent. Perfect SAT and ACT scores are not uncommon compared to a few years ago.

It is clear that the biggest differentiator between students that have top grades and test scores and those whose scores may be lower has become the essay. This is your opportunity to showcase your personality and individuality. You are, in essence, talking directly with the admissions staff about issues that are meaningful to you. This is your opportunity to explain who you are and help you stand out from other applicants.

I see this trend accelerating over the next several years, especially with students applying from high schools focusing more in standardized curriculum's.


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