Sep 10, 2011

Colleges Where Early Decision Helps

The Daily Beast recently ran admissions numbers on early decision (ED) and came up with a list of 20 colleges appearing to strongly favor ED applicants. These are schools that see a very real administrative advantage in requiring a binding commitment to attend in exchange for an early read on an applicant’s credentials.

The take away from the story is that the “single biggest advantage students can easily give themselves for getting into a top university” is to apply early decision.

I might argue that the admissions advantage mainly goes to the college or university clearing a path toward guaranteed yield (percent of students accepting an invitation to attend) and angling for higher position on any one of several rankings ladders.

The advantage is less clear for students pressured into making final decisions so early in the game. There’s no buyers’ remorse here. Once you, your parents, and your guidance counselor sign the Early Decision Agreement, you’re committed to attend if admitted.

And the college now holds all the cards. The staff not only decides your admissibility, but they also have a very real advantage in the financial aid side of the equation.

Yes, there is a small loophole that suggests you can get out of your ED commitment if the financial aid package is totally insufficient to meet your needs. And yes, colleges may consider pleas for additional aid.

But it’s no secret that many colleges hold special enticements and certain merit money for those regular decision applicants who might be just a teensy bit harder to recruit.

In other words, colleges take advantage of the fact that ED applicants are all theirs. They get the benefit of having a secure yield without giving up as much money.

Make no mistake. Many of the most highly “selective” colleges play this game. When Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Virginia gave up their ED policies a few years ago, they expected colleges across the country to agree with the conclusion that ED disadvantaged students and hoped they would lead a charge against the unfairness of ED.

Guess what? Colleges with successful ED programs looked the other way, including my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, which has skillfully used ED to climb straight up the USNWR rankings.

The Daily Beast certainly makes good points about the advantages of ED. But be aware of the downside. The applicant pool tends to be the strongest—both in terms of academics and special advantages (legacy or sports)—and most organized.

Once you’re lured into the ED application, you’re locked-in, colleges have little motivation to open their pocketbooks, and students who may still be polishing their academic records or clearly don’t fit the profile risk the other “ED”—early denial.

The following are the Daily Beast’s nominations for colleges that love early decision (ED percent admitted/RD percent admitted):

  • Dickinson College (73%/46%)

  • Bucknell University (62%/27%)

  • Davidson College (58%/26%)

  • Barnard College (53%/25%)

  • Colorado College (52%/32%)

  • Bates College (48%/30%)

  • Carleton College (47%/29%)

  • Johns Hopkins University (44%/24%)

  • Wesleyan University (43%/19%)

  • Vassar College (41%22%)

  • Williams College (40%/17%)

  • Northwestern University (39%/26%)

  • Middlebury College (36%/16%)

  • University of Pennsylvania (34%/11%)

  • Amherst College (34%/14%)

  • Cornell University (33%/17%)

  • Vanderbilt University (32%/16%)

  • Duke University (30%/15%)

  • Dartmouth College (29%/10%)
Hamilton College was included by the Daily Beast on the original list. The correct numbers for Hamilton College are ED: 44% and RD: 28%. I appreciate that Hamilton brought this to my attention.

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