Does Applying Early Boost Your Acceptance Odds at Elite Colleges?

01/11/202315 minute read
Does Applying Early Boost Your Acceptance Odds at Elite Colleges?

With admissions rates lower than ever at Ivy League schools and at other top-rated colleges and universities, early application strategies can be instrumental in boosting your odds for admissions. But, with so much planning and decision making to grapple with on the journey to submitting your applications, it can be all too easy to overlook the pros and cons of early application options, including Early Application, Early Decision, and Restrictive Early Action options.

In this post we’ll provide a quick overview of crucial information your family can use to jumpstart your own decision making with regard to early application policies and your application strategy.


Every year, thousands of high school seniors find themselves navigating the competitive and often complex world of college admissions, vying for a coveted spot at elite institutions such as Harvard, Yale, UPenn, and Stanford. With acceptance rates at top-tier schools dwindling each year and top schools turning away even exceptionally accomplished applicants — you need to consider every strategy out there to get an admissions edge at elite colleges and universities.

One strategy gaining popularity and attention involves taking advantage of early application options, such as Early Decision, Early Action, and Restrictive Early Action.

The fact is, for a variety of reasons, applying early does correlate to better odds for admissions at many top-ranked colleges and universities.

While hundreds of colleges offer early application options, these options are typically most consequential for admissions at the very best colleges. That said, the different application processes – and their respective nuances or specific commitments — can be a lot to understand, let alone navigate successfully. In this blog post, we delve into the nuances of these early application options and explore how applying early can truly gives applicants an edge in the admissions process.

I. Overview of Early Application Policies

Early application processes fall into three types: Early Decision, Early Action, and Restrictive Early Action — in addition, of course, to Regular Decision (RD) application rounds and policies.

Early Decision (ED) requires applying early, but it typically also confers advantages in terms of increased odds for admissions. But there’s a big catch, or can be, depending on your circumstances. It’s essential to understand that Early Decision policies typically require you to attend the college, limiting any options you have, if admitted, to choose a different school.

Early Action (EA) on the other hand is non-binding and allows students to receive an admission decision earlier without committing to attend.

Restrictive Early Action (REA) is similar to Early Action but restricts students from applying early to other private colleges.

It’s crucial for students to understand the commitments involved, particularly the binding nature of Early Decision, as it requires a strong certainty about their first-choice college. Remember, if admitted under Early Decision, you’ll no longer have flexibility when it comes to considering offers from other schools, including financial assistance offers from those schools.

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II. Statistical Analysis of Acceptance Rates

 A closer look at the admissions rates for early versus regular applicants at top colleges reveals some intriguing trends. For instance, data has shown that early applicants often have a higher acceptance rate compared to regular decision applicants.

John Hopkins~7%~21%

It’s important to analyze these statistics critically, however, and understand what they could imply for individual applicants.

The higher acceptance rate for early applicants might be due to a variety of factors — one big factor that can boost rates for early applications is having a smaller applicant pool and a higher percentage of well-prepared candidates. That said, across the board, at many of the universities that are the most competitive, admissions rates are notably higher for EA/ED/REA applicants.

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III. Why Early Application Might Help

Besides looking just at admissions statistics, it’s important, when considering your own application options, to be aware of other reasons colleges might look favorably on early applications.

  • Committing to a college through Early Decision demonstrates a high level of interest and commitment, which can be attractive to admissions officers.
  • Admitting students through early application rounds helps colleges improve their yield rate, which is the percentage of admitted students who choose to enroll — an incentive for the institution to accept more ED applicants.
  • Early applications may also be perceived positively as they reflect a student's enthusiasm and readiness to commit to a college.

In essence, sometimes colleges have their own interests in mind when favoring early applicants. In other respects, applying early may be one more way to help ensure your application stands out in a positive light.

Leveraging Early Admissions for Success: A Crimson Case Study

Even with a truly exceptional and stellar profile, you’re facing some difficult odds when applying to the very best universities. So if your circumstances make it a good choice, applying early could give you an important extra advantage.

Ayaka’s journey to Brown university illustrates what this can look like in the context of your larger admissions challenges. For Ayaka, a Japanese student, trying to navigate the US admissions landscape added one more layer of complexity.

So when Ayaka learned that her Crimson strategist felt she should strategically apply to Brown in the Early Round, she didn’t know if she could pull it off or if she really needed to. After all Ayaka was accomplished academically and had well-rounded interests and extracurricular accomplishments.

At the same time, these diverse interests also posed a challenge — making it hard to craft a cohesive personal narrative that would make her stand out at a very selective school. Ayaka’s strategist wanted to focus on that challenge while also giving Ayaka a pivotal extra edge with an Early Round strategy.

The biggest challenge in all this was that Brown had a quite rigorous Early Round application process, leaving Ayaka wondering if she was up to getting so many application materials submitted before the deadline.

Ayaka’s Crimson team helped her navigate Brown’s application requirements and maintain the right pacing. Ayaka rose to the challenge and submitted a strong application:

My strategist helped me out with my schedule and kept me way ahead of my deadlines… It would’ve been a much more stressful application process without Crimson.”

The good news is that the strategy worked, and Ayaka was accepted at Brown University during the Early Round.

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IV. Considering the Competition

With all these factors in mind, every applicant should still consider their own circumstances, application readiness, academic profile, and choice schools, as they try to make an informed decision about whether applying EA, ED, or REA is the best course of action for their personal circumstances.

For example, it’s important to note that the early applicant pool is often comprised of highly prepared and competitive candidates. This means that while the acceptance rate might be higher for early applicants, the competition is still fierce.

Likewise, students need to realistically evaluate their own academic and extracurricular profiles before deciding to apply early — a rushed or incomplete application can do more harm than good. The benefit of applying early needs to be weighed against all the other factors that will impact your application.

V. The Caveats of Early Applications

Despite the potential advantages, there are also drawbacks to early applications.

  • Students have less time to refine their applications and gather necessary materials.
  • You could be limiting your choice of schools, and also your financial aid options, due to the binding nature of Early Decision.
  • Meeting the deadline for an early application round may mean, for some students, submitting an overall application that’s not as competitive as it would be if submitted at a later date.
  • An EA, ED, or REA strategy might not make sense if you need additional time to hone your list of reach and target schools, or to decide about first-choice schools.

It’s clear that, in some circumstances, applying early might not be the best strategy —  particularly for students who need more time to strengthen their application or for those who are undecided about their first-choice college.

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VI. Expert Insights

At Crimson Education many of the students who have partnered with Advisors in our global network have had exceptional success receiving offers from top-tier colleges and universities. The success of our EA/ED applicants in particular says a lot about how an effective, personalized EA/ED strategy can truly boost your odds for admissions — as we have had more than 340 early admits receive offers to the US Top 50 Universities, including 60+ success stories at Ivy League schools and 20+ admits to Stanford and MIT.

How I Got Into Cornell

Listen to our YouTube Video: “How Max Got Into Cornell”

As you navigate your own decision, consider getting input from a college counselor, other trusted and informed adults, or reach out to a Crimson Education Advisor.

In the meantime here’s a few key strategy tips our Advisors spotlighted for this article:

You already feel confident you’ve identified your top-choice school
Your transcripts through the end of grade 11 already demonstrate academic rigor and good grades (as early admissions applicants won’t have any senior-year fall transcripts to submit)
Meeting the early deadline (typically Nov. 1) doesn’t preclude you from submitting a well prepared and thoughtful application
If applying ED, you’ve fully reviewed and considered how ED commitments will limit your school choices and financial aid options
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Final Thoughts

While applying early can offer several advantages and potentially boost an applicant’s chances of admission at elite colleges, it is a decision that should be made carefully and strategically. Understanding the nuances of early application policies, evaluating the competition, and weighing the potential drawbacks are all crucial steps in making an informed decision that aligns with a student’s goals and readiness for college.

If you’re applying to highly selective colleges that offer Early Action, Early Decision, or Restrictive Early Action options, we encourage you to plan ahead and seriously consider the possible benefits of an early application approach, based on your school choices and personal circumstances.

What Makes Crimson Different

That said, there are many nuanced considerations that can come into play for individual students when it comes to application timelines and commitments. Helpful guidance from a skilled Advisor will lift some of the decision-making burden while giving you confidence you’ve stacked all the odds in your favor. Book a free consultation — we can discuss questions you have now about decision making and explain our team approach. When you’re ready, we’ll match your student with the best Advisor for their aspirations and school choices — the first step in making a personalized plan to maximize your student’s chances for a transformative college journey.