Early applications for the class of 2017 to most Ivy League schools are more competitive than ever, keeping within the trend of the past decade.
Yale’s early applications increased by 4.4 percent this year, while Princeton and Harvard — currently in their second early admissions rounds since reinstating early action programs in 2011 — experienced increases of 10 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Excluding Cornell, which has yet to release its early admissions numbers, Dartmouth is the only Ivy League school that reported a decrease in applications, dropping 12.5 percent from last year’s numbers. Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel said in an email to the News that he believes the rise in applications across the board can be attributed partly to an increased perception that early admission programs, and particularly binding early decision programs, provide applicants a better chance of acceptance.
“It’s always hard to say what causes fluctuations in application numbers, but over the past 15 years they have been rising steadily at all the most selective schools,” Brenzel said.
Yale, Harvard and Princeton are the only Ivy League schools that offer nonbinding early action options, as the others offer early decision programs. Yale received a total of 4,514 early applications this year, while Harvard received 4,856 and Princeton received 3,791. Dartmouth, Brown, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania received 1,574, 2,957, 3,126 and 4,780 applications, respectively.
On Monday, Dartmouth announced that it accepted 464 early applications with a 29.5 percent acceptance rate. Kurt Schmidt, director of college counseling at St. Ignatius College Prep in Illinois, said he thinks the decrease in Dartmouth applications this year could have resulted from an altered outreach strategy — but, he said, negative media attention surrounding the school’s fraternity culture this year could also have had a small impact.
Despite Dartmouth’s downturn, Chuck Hughes, president of college admissions consulting service Road to College, said he thinks a large component of the rise in early applications stems from an increased number of international students applying to selective American universities.
Roland Allen, director of college counseling at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in California and a former admissions officer at Stanford and MIT, said that in the past two years, he has seen more than a 30 percent increase in the number of students who decide to apply early to universities. SMEC encourages students to apply early because it “helps take the stress out of the process” and urges students to get organized earlier in the year, he said. He added that many students believe sending an early application to selective universities, such as Yale and Harvard, shows a special interest in the school.
Schmidt said the increase in applications could be caused by an increase in outreach by the universities themselves. More students apply early because schools are better at getting “the word out there,” he said.
“The answer is the same for the last 10 years — it’s the most competitive class ever,” Hughes said. “But I don’t see it as domestic applicants getting more competitive at these schools [because] we are at that point of pretty much maxing out. I think the influx is coming from international [applicants].”
But Allen said he thinks many American students feel more confident that they are “going to be that special applicant to stand out,” leading to an increased number of applications in early admissions rounds. When a student has friends who apply to selective colleges, he said, it “encourages a kind of groupthink” and inspires competition regardless of their chances.
Students interviewed said they opted for early admissions because of the faster response. Maple Chen, a high school senior from Pennsylvania, said she chose to apply in Yale’s early action round because Yale is her first choice and she wants to hear her admissions decision before the regular decision round in the spring.
“Of course the increased number of early applications makes me nervous,” Chen said. “But I think that students all over the world are jumping on the early application bandwagon, probably for the same reasons that I did.”
Yale’s early admissions decisions this year will be released to applicants on the evening of Dec. 14. All early applicants to Ivy League universities will be notified of their decisions by the end of December.