Early Admissions: “The New Normal”


In what’s increasingly becoming an “Arms Race” of admissions, more and more students are applying early admissions.  The higher admit rates during early admissions in comparison with the regular decision period seemingly indicates greater chances for admissions.  For the current Class of 2021, 14.5% of Early Action applicants to Harvard were admitted, while during Regular Decision, only 5.1% of the applicants were admitted. On face value, early admissions seems to be a three times greater advantage.  And, for anxious seniors, any advantage is appealing.

Even Harvard’s longtime Dean of Admissions, William R. Fitzsimmons, admits: “Early admission appears to be the ‘new normal’ now, as more students are applying early to Harvard and peer institutions than ever before.

Yet, the seeming statistical advantage of early admissions can be dispelled with simple analysis. With only 6,473 applicants for the early action pool, 938 students were admitted, or 14.5% of the applicants. The higher admit rate results from a smaller, more selective AND qualified pool of applicants.

Dean Fitzsimmons reinforces that early admissions is not a strategically advantaged application:

At the same time, we have continued to stress to applicants, their families, and their guidance counselors that there is no advantage in applying early to Harvard. The reason students are admitted — early or during the regular action process — is that their academic, extracurricular, and personal strengths are extraordinary.

The admissions committee is careful to ensure that only those students who are, in Fitzsimmons’ words, “100 percent certain” to be admitted in regular action are admitted early.

Under further scrutiny, of the 39,506 applicants in the regular decision pool for Fall 2017 admissions, more students were admitted, 2056 admitted or 5.1% of the applicants.  Numerically, more people were admitted during the regular decision pool, in comparison with the early action pool.  The smaller admit rate during regular decision is simply a statistical calculation resulting from a numerically larger group of applicants.

For more information:

938 admitted early to College Class of 2021