Harvard University in December admitted 895 students who applied early – or 13.9% of the 6,424 who applied. Last December, Harvard admitted 935 students, or 13.4% of the 6,958 students who applied.

Both press releases praised the number of women – 51.7% this year. And both releases made it clear how difficult it is to get admitted to Harvard – the regular ruling admission rate is around 5%.

Harvard is different from many early stage programs in that it is an “early action”, not an “early decision” – meaning that admitted students are not required to enroll.

But the university is not alone in seeing a slight drop in the number of students who applied early and were admitted early. There are all kinds of reasons given for the declines – which some say are insignificant.

Making comparisons at this point in the year is difficult. Colleges publish information at different times and their admission policies vary. But the trend that not everyone sees increases seems clear.

At Duke University, there were 4,300 applicants for an early ruling this year, up from 4,852 early applicants a year ago. Duke admitted 887 students this year, 20.6%.

Christoph Guttentag, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, said: “They are academically the strongest early decision-making group in our history.”

At the University of Pennsylvania, the university admitted 1,269 students out of 6,453 applications. This was down from 7,109 last year.

Ron Ozio, a spokesperson for Penn, said the university viewed the last two years leading up to this year as aberrations, and this year as where the university should be. About 53 percent of Penn’s new class this fall has already been admitted.

Emory University received 1,751 applications for the first of two early decision rounds. It was a 5 percent drop.

But Susan Chana, associate vice president of corporate communications at Emory, said the drop came from early international applicants and the volume from Americans was on the rise (as were admissions).

“We admitted more students through the early decision plan this year because the academic quality of domestic and international applicants was stronger this year,” she said.

The early decision is primarily important for the minority of highly competitive colleges. And some of them are seeing gains.

Brown University has seen an 8 percent increase in applications to its first program. A total of 4,562 students applied early.

Cornell University saw its number of early decision applicants increase from 6,159 to 6,615 – and also increased its admission rate from 22.7% to 23.8% (although this was less than the rate of early decision-making). admission two years earlier).

Reed College, a small liberal arts college, has seen its first applications and first admissions increase this year, with applications dropping from 112 to 130, and admits dropping from 72 to 77. (This is the first of two early decision turns to Reed.)

The colleges that are seeing the largest increases in early applications this year are the colleges that did not rely on them to fill their classes.

The University of Santa Clara has seen advance ruling requests (first round) increase by 28%, but only to 389, and a 95% increase in the number of advance rulings (second round) to 284.

Eva Blanco Masias, dean of undergraduate admissions, said rankings were the key to success, especially with international students.

The University of Denver has seen advance ruling requests (first round) drop from 168 to 234. The university expects to enroll about 40 more students than last year.

What’s the problem?

For many Deans of Admissions, the increases in recent years in early decisions are good; they reflect the strong desire of many students to attend particular colleges.

But many educators and some outside critics see the early decision as detrimental to efforts to recruit low-income and minority students. (Numerous college press releases tout their efforts to diversify the early admission pool.)

“Early admissions programs – especially early decisions – take all of these advantages and offer wealthy students one more: a chance to get to the front of the queue for the admissions exam,” says a november report from the Center for American Progress.

“Early admission programs offer wealthy, predominantly white students an advantage in being accepted into competitive schools: Unsurprisingly, research shows that early decision applicants are thrice more likely to be white. They also undermine incentives for universities to woo students through financial aid and are associated with a decline in campus diversity, ”the report said. “The cumulative result of these undeserved privileges and early admissions policies is nothing less than a representation crisis at America’s most prestigious college. campus. Low-income students and black and Latinx students remain woefully under-represented at some institutions, while the majority of students at top colleges across the country are wealthy and white. “

Seth Allen, vice president of strategy and dean of admissions and financial aid at Pomona College, noted that Pomona decided two years ago not to disclose information about the college’s performance during the undergraduate cycle. current admission. Pomona (like Stanford University) publishes the information in the Common Data Set at the end of the cycle.

Regarding general trends, he said via email: “We have received more this year than last year. In general, advance ruling requests have increased every year in Pomona. This may be in part due to our own outreach efforts to find talented students everywhere. Pomona visits all geographic markets in California, all states in the United States, and all continents at least once every two years (except Antarctica). This is also in part due to the fact that students and their families feel anxious about the college admission process and believe that in order to stand out, the candidate must apply an early decision and be part of a larger cohort. restricted of candidates. “