Colleges See Surge In Early Apps

by | Jan 2, 2021

Written By: Jon Piliser

As the dust settles on early admissions, one trend is becoming clear: top universities have seen a massive surge in early applications. 

Early decision — the binding commitment that students make to attend one school if admitted — saw an increase in submissions by 22% at Brown University and 23% at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Some schools saw an even more dramatic change: Columbia early decision applications are up by 49% while Harvard saw an increase of 57% in early action submissions. 

While this is a significant deviation from years past, these results shouldn’t be too surprising. In a year marked by unpredictability, it’s logical that students would want to mitigate this chaos by trying to obtain an affirmative decision earlier in the process. 

Perhaps even more relevant, selective universities have opted to make test scores optional this year (and some schools, like MIT & Caltech, have done away with tests like the SAT subject exams altogether). Students who normally would have been reluctant to apply if they had test scores well below a college’s average now feel like they have a reasonable chance of being admitted. 

What does this mean for you? First, brace yourself for more unpredictability. With fewer scores to consider and more applications to review, selective colleges have less information than ever to make their decisions. Even grades are less reliable than in years past as many schools adopted a “credit/no credit” policy when remote learning first began. There are also far fewer in-person internships and other extracurricular activities to partake in. 

Be sure to apply to a wider range of colleges than you might have otherwise; given the very arbitrary nature of decisions this year, it’s entirely possible to get into one reach school even if you were rejected by several others. Likewise, you’ll want to spend more attention than usual on your safety schools — find schools that have significantly higher acceptance rates that you would be genuinely excited to attend. 

Finally, if you do end up getting deferred or placed on a waitlist, devote more time and attention to following up with your college. It’s likely that admissions offices were overtaxed, forced to review more applications than ever in a limited timeframe. So for any marginal decisions, schools may be inclined to “defer” and essentially postpone making a choice until they are able to review the full range of their regular decision applicants. Plan to update your early school with any new developments — grades, awards, extracurricular commitments — as well as a renewed statement of interest. 

With so many applications and less data to work with than ever, this is shaping up to be a highly unpredictable college admissions season. Don’t be discouraged by surprising results and try to do the best job possible with the elements still under your control — essay writing, interviews, and so on.