Does Applying Early Decision or Early Action Increase My Chances?
- Are Early Decision Applicants More Qualified?
- Does Applying Early Decision Increase Your Chances?
- Does Applying Early Action Increase Your Chances Too?
- What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?
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?
In the past, many people 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.
Are Early Decision Applicants More Qualified?
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. Several years ago, we used to believe that the higher acceptance rates of early decision programs were accounted for by more qualified applicants, but our stance is now 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 they apply early decision than when the same student applies regular decision to the same school.
On average, applying ED is going to result in a 1.6x or a 60% increase in your chances of admission to super selective schools. The benefit becomes less pronounced the less selective the school is. So if your chances before choosing to apply early were 4% that would bump your chances up to 6.4%, which is a pretty meaningful increase of about 2.4 extra percentage points.
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.
Drawbacks of Applying Early Decision
While applying ED increases your chances of acceptance, it’s not without its drawbacks. You commit to attending the school, so you won’t be able to shop around for financial aid packages. You should make sure that the school’s net price calculator estimate is in the ballpark of what your family is willing to pay. If the school doesn’t give you enough aid, however, you can withdraw from the ED agreement.
Beyond that, you can only apply to one school ED. You can submit applications to other schools on the RD or EA timeline, but you will need to withdraw your application if you get accepted to your ED school. You need to be sure that your ED school is the right choice for you.
You’ll also want to prepare RD applications in case your ED application is rejected, as ED decisions come out in mid-December, only giving you a couple weeks to write RD essays if you wait until the ED decision comes out. So, applying ED may not ultimately save you a lot of work.
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. Single-choice or restrictive early action has more benefits than regular early action. For example, Harvard’s restrictive early action acceptance rate for the class of 2026 was 7.87%, compared to the overall acceptance rate of 2.34%.
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 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 historically is very similar to its regular decision acceptance rate. 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.
What are My Chances of Acceptance?
College applications take time, especially if your school is not available on the Common App. They also cost money! When you’re applying early decision, you have less time to craft your responses, get your recommendations, and save up for application fees. With all this effort, you’re probably pretty concerned about your chances of getting in!
When you’re confronted with your acceptance chances, everything can seem overwhelming. We’re here to help! With a free CollegeVine account, you gain access to our admissions calculator. We’ll let you know your chances of acceptance at top schools based on your academic and extracurricular profile, and show you how your chances change if you apply early.
If you need an extra boost, check out some of our resources on increasing your chances of acceptance: