Does Applying Early Decision Increase My Chances?

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Students with their hearts set on attending a specific college often want to know how they can increase their odds of acceptance. Will attending summer programs give them a boost? How about contacting a local alumna? We hear these questions a lot, but there’s one we hear far more often than all the others—will applying early decision increase my chances?


It was previously believed that applying early decision or early action offered no significant advantage to applying regular decision at most colleges. Is this still the case? Keep reading to find out how applying early decision can impact your odds of acceptance.


Do Early Decision Applicants Tend to Be a More Qualified Pool of Candidates?


It’s easy enough to look up acceptance rates, and anyone who does so will notice that most schools have higher acceptance rates for early decision applicants, sometimes significantly so. To the untrained eye, this might make it seem like early decision is an easier round of admissions, but this ignores a big piece of the puzzle.


Students who apply early decision might be more qualified overall than those who apply regular decision. After all, they are the students who have decided months ahead of time where they want to attend college. Maybe this also means they are the same students who have been ahead of other curves throughout their high school years. While it’s hard to find statistics about the average SAT or GPA of early decision applicant pools, it’s safe to say that students who apply early are forward thinking planners who pay close attention to detail. Could this alone account for the sometimes very large discrepancy between acceptance rates?


Is the Average Student More Likely to Get In Early Decision?


At CollegeVine, we have experience working with thousands of college hopefuls and we have access to thousands of other data points gathered through our own research. While we used to believe that the higher acceptance rates of early decision programs were accounted for by more highly qualified applicants, we now believe that the difference in acceptance rates between early and regular decision cannot entirely be accounted for by differences in the applicant pool.


Our data shows that applicants across the board have a higher chance of gaining acceptance when they apply through early decision, even when differences in candidate strength are accounted for. This means that the average student is more likely to get in when he or she applies early decision than when the same student applies regular decision to the same school.  

Why Do Colleges Accept So Many Early Decision Applicants?


Early decision applicants are a sure thing for colleges, many of which want to accurately predict their yield. Yield is an important factor for colleges. Essentially, it is the percent of accepted students who end up enrolling. Not only is this an important factor to predict accurately for financial purposes (since a full class brings more tuition), but it is also weighed by many college rankings.


Early decision applicants help a college to more accurately predict yield because they have committed to attending even before they are offered an acceptance. As Karen Richardson, the dean of undergraduate admissions and enrollment management at Tufts says, “The biggest difference between ED and [RD] students is that those who apply ED have already decided that Tufts is the place that they want to be. As the ED pool has grown and gotten stronger, it’s difficult to say ‘no’ to good students who are good fits and who have made the commitment to attend if accepted.” Richardson goes on to note that Tufts specifically does not offer Early Action, because its non-binding nature makes yield projections difficult.


With so many qualified candidates now applying through early decision programs, it’s easy to see why colleges are apt to favor them. In fact, at many schools, early decision applicants are accepted at rates 10-12% higher than regular decision applicants.


Does Early Action Offer an Admissions Benefit, Too?


While it doesn’t offer as significant a boost as early decision, most early action programs still provide some admissions advantage. For Single-Choice Early Action or Restrictive Early Action programs, the admissions benefits can be around 6-8%, while for normal Early Action, the admissions benefits hover around 4-6%. While these might seem negligible, keep in mind that the overall acceptance rate at many top schools is now below 10%. A 6 point advantage can be significant when we’re talking about such low acceptance rates.


Early action programs probably don’t offer as big of an advantage as early decision because they don’t offer as big of an advantage to colleges, either. Early action, even single-choice or restrictive early action, still leave room for accepted students to change their mind and attend another school. While the applicant’s demonstrated interest is still seen as an advantage to admissions committees, it isn’t as significant as the sure bet that early decision applicants represent.


Do All Schools Favor Early Decision Applicants?


Of course, to every rule there is an exception, and this is no different. While most colleges do accept early decision and even early action students at higher rates, this isn’t true of all schools across the board. Most notably, the early action acceptance rate at MIT is just 6.9%, compared to the regular decision acceptance rate of 6.7%. So, while most colleges do favor early decision candidates, the degree to which this occurs varies from one school to another, and at some schools, it can even be insignificant.


Curious about your chances of acceptance to your dream school? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.

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