Early Decision and Early Action Acceptance Rates at Top Schools

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What’s Covered:

 

There’s a lot to think about when applying to college. As you’re gearing up to start the process, you’re probably weighing your options and making a plan for completing your applications. One consideration is whether you’ll apply early decision or early action.

 

When you apply early decision (ED), you submit your application well before the regular decision (RD) deadline and commit to attending that school if accepted. Today, some colleges also offer early decision II plans, a binding option with a deadline similar to that of RD plans.

 

Early action (EA) follows a similar timeline, where students usually apply around November, and find out whether they’ve been accepted, denied, or deferred to the regular pool. This plan, however, is not binding, meaning you’re not required to attend that school if admitted. A third plan, restricted or single-choice early action (REA), is nonbinding, but you can only apply to that school early if you apply REA.

 

Some students choose to apply ED or EA because there is an admissions advantage to doing so. But just how much of a boost does ED or EA really give you?

 

Does Early Decision Improve Your Chances?

 

While at first glance, it may appear that students who apply early have a substantial advantage over those who apply regular decision, it’s important to keep other factors that affect these numbers in mind. For example, students who apply ED are more likely to fit the profile of students who attend the school since they have named it their first choice. Or, because any student who applies early must complete their applications before their peers, it’s also possible that these students are more forward-thinking than some others.

 

With that said, even when taking into account the theories above, the fact remains that students who apply early do have an advantage. While ED admission rates are declining, as of just a couple years ago, ED applicants experienced admission rates 10-12% higher than those of RD applicants. 

 

EA doesn’t provide as large of an admission advantage as ED, although data from the same year still shows an advantage of 4-6% over RD applicants. Meanwhile, restrictive or single-choice early-action plans, which don’t allow students to apply to other colleges EA, offer a slightly higher boost — around 6-8%.

 

As you can see in the chart below, the difference between early and regular admission rates vary per school. For example, at MIT, which has a nonrestrictive EA plan, the difference in admissions rates is marginal — 4.8% for EA vs. 4% RD.

 

Early Decision and Early Action Acceptance Rates 2020–2021

 

Not all schools publish their early decision and early action acceptance rate data. Below are the national universities and liberal arts colleges (LACs) in the top 20 on US News’ lists of best schools that have released this data for the 2020–21 admissions cycle.

 

Universities

 

School

ED Acceptance Rate

EA Acceptance Rate

Overall Acceptance Rate

Brown University

16.0%

N/A

5.4%

Dartmouth University

21.0%

N/A

6.2%

Duke University

16.7%

N/A

5.8%

Harvard University

N/A

7.4%

3.4%

Johns Hopkins University

19.0%

N/A

5% (RD only)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

N/A

4.8%

4.0%

Rice University

16.0%

N/A

9.3%

University of Notre Dame

N/A

22.0%

14.6%

University of Pennsylvania

15.0%

N/A

5.7%

Vanderbilt University

18.1%

N/A

6.7%

Yale University

N/A

10.5%

4.6%

 

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LACs

 

School

ED Acceptance Rate

EA Acceptance Rate

Overall Acceptance Rate

Amherst College

35.0%

N/A

8.0%

Colgate University

61.0%

N/A

17.0%

Middlebury College

34.2% (ED I only)

N/A

15.7%

Pomona College

15.4%

N/A

8.6%

Williams College

33%

N/A

8.0%

 

How Have Early Acceptance Rates Changed Over Time?

 

In many cases, overall acceptance rates are declining simply because there are more applicants year after year. This often extends to ED and EA, too. However, as you can see from the table below, this is not true for all schools.

 

School

Early acceptance rate 2018–19

Early acceptance rate 2019–20

Early acceptance rate 2020–21

Amherst College

N/A

35.9%

35.0%

Brown University

18.2%

17.5%

16.0%

Colgate University

N/A

N/A

61.0%

Dartmouth University

23.2%

26.4%

21.0%

Duke University

18.4%

20.7%

16.7%

Harvard University

13.4%

13.9%

7.4%

Johns Hopkins University

31.0%

28.4%

19.0%

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

7.4%

7.4%

4.8%

Middlebury College

45.1% (ED I only)

N/A

34.2% (ED I only)

Pomona College

15.4%

N/A

15.4%

Rice University

15.5%

18.9%

16.0%

University of Notre Dame

20.9%

21.1%

22.0%

University of Pennsylvania

18.0%

19.7%

15.0%

Vanderbilt University

19.8%

20.7%

18.1%

Williams College

37.0%

37.3%

33%

Yale University

13.2%

13.8%

10.5%

 

Should You Apply Early Decision or Early Action? 

 

There are advantages and disadvantages to applying ED or EA. One perk of applying early is that you’ll be able to learn your admissions decision much earlier than if you applied RD, usually in December. But, on the flip side, if it’s bad news, you’ll have to deal with the disappointment while you’re finalizing your RD applications. Moreover, since ED/EA applications are due earlier, you won’t have as much time to determine which school is the best fit for you. In sum, applying early is not the right plan for everyone.

 

We advise students to apply early if their dream school is a reach because doing so may just inch them into the acceptance pool. But, recognize that this advantage has limitations. If the school is a far reach for you, then you’re probably better off saving your ED or REA application for another school, rather than wasting it on a college where you’re unlikely to be admitted. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother applying at all — but you should consider applying to another REA school or a handful of unrestricted EA schools instead.

 

Wondering which schools are safeties, targets, and reaches? That depends on your profile. CollegeVine’s chancing engine will factor in your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and more to calculate your odds of admission at the schools on your list. Plus, this free tool will offer tips to help you improve your profile.

 

 

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Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.

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