Early Admission: A Strategic Move to Consider

Deciding whether or not to apply for early admissions can be challenging. Should you commit to a single school through Early Decision? Does early admissions really make a difference in your overall chances of being accepted? Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Single Choice Early Action?

A few select Ivy League schools with the lowest acceptance rates — such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford — offer single choice early action (SCEA) admissions. Students who choose to apply for SCEA must do so November 1st. Here are the benefits of SCEA:

  • You’re guaranteed a decision from the college by mid-December.
  • Even if you are accepted, the offer is non-binding, meaning you don’t have to accept the offer of admission.

Some of the drawbacks of SCEA are:

  • You’re not allowed to apply to other schools during their early action periods (state schools excluded). However, once you receive a decision from your SCEA school, you’re free to apply elsewhere.
  • Because an offer of acceptance is non-binding, it doesn’t help your chances of being accepted all that much.  The higher acceptance rates during SCEA are greatly impacted by the fact that all athletic recruits apply (and are largely accepted) during that round, as well as the fact that the SCEA round has a greater concentration of competitive applicants.

What Is Early Decision?

On the other hand, Ivy-ish schools with higher overall acceptance rates typically offer an Early  Decision (ED) application period. Like SCEA, the ED application is due by early November and students receive an answer from the school by mid-December.

However, ED is different from SCEA in that an offer of acceptance is binding, and therefore it does help your chances of being accepted.

As shown below, the difference between acceptance rates of ED and regular decision (RD) applicants is significant. [Note: These numbers are estimates, based on each school’s most recently released admissions data]

Ivy League Schools Class of 2021 (lowest acceptance rates):


EA rate: 17.1%

RD rate: 5.0%


EA rate: 14.5%

RD rate: 3.4%


EA rate: 15.4%

RD rate: 4.3%


EA rate: 7.8%

RD Rate: 6.58%

Average EA rate: 13.7%

Average RD Rate: 4.82%

Ivy-ish Schools Class of 2021:


ED rate: 23.6% (860)

RD rate: 8.6%

2020 first-year students: 1,601

% class filled with ED: 53%


ED rate: 26% (971)

RD rate: 7.15%

2020 first-year students: 1,985

% class filled with ED: 49%


ED rate: 24% (861)

RD rate: 7.3%

2020 first-year students: 1,731

% class filled with ED: 49.7%

Johns Hopkins

ED rate: 31% (591)

RD rate: 10.3%

Enrolled first-year students: 1,313

% class filled with ED: 45%

Average ED Rate: 26.15%

Average RD Rate: 8.3%

Average % class filled with ED: 49.18%

The importance of ED applications is clear, as we can see that nearly half of the first-year student bodies at Ivy-ish schools are made up of ED applicants.

Liberal Arts Colleges:


ED rate: 35% (257)

RD rate: 12.67%

2020 first-year students: 550

% class filled with ED: 47%


ED rate: 50% (403)

RD rate: 16.7%

2020 first-year students: 705

% class filled with ED: 57%

Additionally, small liberal arts colleges also rely heavily on ED to fill their first-year classes. Since these schools have smaller applicant pools and more limited resources than larger schools, ED helps them control their unpredictable yield rate (percent of students accepted who attend), which directly affects their rankings.

Look beyond overall acceptance rates

It’s critical to remember that Ivy-ish schools’ overall acceptance rates are inflated by the ED acceptance rates.

Many schools will only advertise their early and overall acceptance rate (early round + regular), whereas their acceptance rates for regular decision alone are very hard to find.  This sleight of hand can lead to faulty assumptions about your chances during the regular round.

In other words, applying SCEA to an Ivy may take you out of the running for an Ivy-ish school because Ivy-ish schools have Ivy League acceptance rates during the regular decision round.

The Overall Takeaway

Applying for early admissions can be a great decision. But there are a couple important points to remember:

  • Unless you have a special admissions status — such as recruited athlete, first generation student, or underrepresented minority — applying to SCEA at the Ivies is most likely a bad call. The acceptance rate is extremely low, and you will take yourself out of the running for schools that offer ED, an option that actually gives you an edge.
  • ED at Ivy-ish schools (as well as top liberal arts colleges)  is certainly something to consider. The ED acceptance rate is higher than SCEA, which gives you a better shot. However, because an ED acceptance offer is a binding agreement, you should only apply ED if you’re 100% sure about your top choice.

Think carefully before you decide to apply SCEA. Getting too caught up in prestige by applying SCEA to the Ivies — instead of applying ED to other excellent schools — will likely result in you missing out both your Ivy and Ivy-ish choices.

Need help deciding on your early admissions options? Contact Streamline Tutors today for expert advice that will ensure your best chances of admission to your top choice college.


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