The Wall Street Journal recently published “The Decision That Hurts Your Chances of Getting into Harvard” (3/28/2018).  The article describes how early decision applicants are accepted at a rate two to three times higher than students who apply for admission later in the general admissions pool. Some schools accept as many as 40% to 50% of their admissions through early acceptance. 

Early-decision admission has become routine at elite U.S. universities.  Harvard’s admissions dean calls early admission the “new normal.”  Has applying to a school through early admissions become a smart strategy?

The College Board explains Early Decision (ED):

Early decision plans are binding — a student who is accepted as an ED applicant must attend the college. …

ED applicants:

  • Apply early (usually in November) to their first-choice college.
  • Receive an admission decision from the college well in advance of the usual notification date (usually by December).
  • Agree to attend the college if accepted and offered a financial aid package that is considered adequate by the family.
  • Apply to only one college early decision.
  • Apply to other colleges under regular admission plans.
  • Withdraw all other applications if accepted by ED.
  • Send a nonrefundable deposit well in advance of May 1.

College admissions officers say that it isn’t easier to be admitted through the early admissions process. The officers claim that the higher acceptance rate in the early decision pool results from a pool that has a better ratio of qualified candidates.

Also, early acceptance rates are skewed upwards because that pool includes recruited athletes.  Therefore, an early decision non-athlete applicant’s chances may be less than the applicant expects.

However, college admissions officers acknowledge that an early acceptance applicant demonstrates a higher commitment to attend the university if accepted.  Universities can fill spots with more certainty than if they wait to fill those spots through the regular pool.

As a result of these factors, early decision applicant pools are growing by double digits every year.

The article can be read with a subscription at

The WSJ article caught the attention of Mrs. Karyn Tash and Mrs. Susan Farias, and this review was written by Joe O’Connor, IB Advocate Co-editor.

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