In trend reversal, Yale now rejects more early applicants than it defers
In response to record-breaking numbers of students seeking undergraduate admission to Yale — as well as feedback from high school counselors — Yale is moving to reject more early action applicants than it defers.
Yale Daily News
Admissions data over the past three cycles reflect a changing trend in Yale’s approach to the early application pool.
Data suggests that the office previously preferred deferring early action applicants, delaying the final decision until the spring regular decision date. Starting with the class of 2026, however, the admissions office began rejecting a larger portion of applications. In the most recent early application cycle, which admitted members of the class of 2027, 67 percent of the 7,744 applicants were rejected, while 21 percent were deferred and ten percent were accepted.
This change is motivated both by the influx in applications over the past three admissions cycles and by feedback from college counselors, according to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan.
“About two years ago, two things happened,” Quinlan told the News. “First, the increase in applications. Deferring an application means the committee has to reconsider the application going forward … [so] we are pushing ourselves to make more final decisions in the early application round. The second thing was that we heard from our colleagues in high schools across the country that it is useful to offer final decisions earlier.”
Two years ago, Yale began to see a spike in its number of applicants. The class of 2025 marked the largest group of applicants in University history, at just under 47,000. That record was quickly broken when last year over 50,000 students sought admission to the Yale College class of 2026 — a cohort that is now the largest at Yale.
Mark Dunn, the senior associate director for outreach and recruitment at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, told the News last year that the admissions office’s new virtual outreach strategies, including online tours and information sessions, may have played a role in the growth of the applicant pool. The admissions office also previously attributed its ongoing test-optional policy to this spike.
“As our applications increased dramatically over the past three years, we were looking for lots of ways that we could adjust our process to the increased volume we were seeing,” Quinlan explained. “One of those ways is denying more students early action.”
This change was also informed by input from high school counselors — Quinlan said the admissions office received feedback asking for Yale to offer final decisions earlier so that students can have more time to make informed decisions about where to apply.
“There are lots of options offered by other schools, like Early Decision II or rolling admissions, that students may want to explore,” Quinlan told the News. “The earlier you can give the response to a student, the earlier they can explore options at other schools.”
Yale accepted only 10 percent of early applicants to the class of 2027, which is the lowest acceptance rate since Yale’s early action program first went into effect 20 years ago. Concurrently, the 67 percent of applicants denied in this early action round is the largest percent of early action rejections since at least 2017.
While Yale’s most recent early action cycles feature a larger portion of rejections than deferrals, the same is not necessarily true at peer institutions that also employ a single-choice early-action model. Stanford, Harvard and Princeton Universities utilize similar SCEA models, though Stanford and Harvard call it restrictive early action.
Under SCEA, students may not seek admission from any other private, domestic institution in the early round — though they are free to apply to public American colleges, any rolling admissions programs or to any schools abroad — but can apply to any schools of their choice during the regular decision cycle.
In 1995, Yale abandoned its former early action program for an early decision model. The binding admissions approach was short-lived, as the University announced its switch from this early decision system back to early action in 2002, making the class of 2008 the first this century to apply under this specific implementation of a non-binding early admissions program. Five of the eight Ivies continue to employ a binding early decision program, similar to what Yale previously used.
Students accepted during SCEA are not required to matriculate and have until May 2 to accept or decline their offer of admission, just like students accepted under the regular decision timeframe.
Unlike Yale’s change in approach, Harvard’s most recent round of REA data for the class of 2027 show a larger portion of deferrals — 78 percent — than rejections — 9.5 percent.
Princeton and Stanford, however, are part of a growing group of selective universities that are declining to share their admissions rates on the days that acceptance letters are sent out. Stanford began this trend in the fall of 2018, when they announced that they would no longer disclose early admissions rates beginning with the class of 2023.
Last spring, when the class of 2026 was admitted, Princeton announced that they would also withhold all admissions data across transfer, early action and regular decision admissions, leaving Harvard and Yale the only two universities employing SCEA that continue to disclose their early action data.
Although Stanford withholds its data, the Stanford admissions website describes a similar rejection-driven approach.
“Stanford’s philosophy is to make final decisions whenever possible,” the Stanford Admissions website reads. “As a result, Stanford defers only a small percentage of Restrictive Early Action applications to Regular Decision.”
Unlike Harvard, Yale and Princeton, the remaining five Ivies — Brown University, Dartmouth College, Cornell University, Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania — all use a binding early-decision program. Cornell, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania did not share their early decision acceptance rates for the class of 2027.
Columbia’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jessica Marinaccio declined to comment for this story. Kendra Lider-Johnson, director of marketing & communications for Columbia’s Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, wrote in an email to the News that their office policy prevents accepting requests from student journalists.
Cornell’s Director of Undergraduate Admissions Shawn Felton, University of Pennsylvania Dean of Admissions Whitney Soule and Princeton Dean of Admissions Karen Richardson did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
However, in a column for the Daily Princetonian last spring, Richardson said the choice to withhold admissions data at Princeton was made to avoid pushing prospective students away from applying.
“Neither prospective students nor the University benefit from the admissions process being boiled down in headlines to a single statistic like the admission rate,” Richardson wrote. “We do not want to discourage prospective students from applying to Princeton because of its selectivity.”
The schools are still required to report overall annual admissions data — such as total number of accepted students and total number of applicants — as part of Department of Education requirements and Common Data Set consortia. However, these numbers are released months after admissions decisions and are not always made readily available on university websites.
Quinlan, however, said that Yale values “transparency” in its admissions process.
“We are selective, and it is helpful to talk to people who are trying to understand their admissions decisions with actual information in hand,” Quinlan said. “Talking about the selectivity is a communications and educational tool, and the reality of being selective is not going to change if we share data or not.”
Dunn shared similar views with the News. He noted that much of the admissions processes at selective schools like Yale are inherently “opaque,” as holistic decisions are made based on candid discussions about individual applicants and their circumstances, and these discussions cannot be documented.
Dunn added that he believes the admissions office has a responsibility to be as transparent as possible.
“I have found that much of the anxiety associated with college admissions is connected to a scary but inaccurate vision of the process that exists in the public imagination and that has little resemblance to our actual work and philosophy,” Dunn wrote. “I feel we have a responsibility to be as forthcoming as possible about a process that many people, understandably, regard with suspicion.”
Dunn stressed that the goal behind sharing the number of applicants and admitted students each cycle is not to “brag” about Yale’s selectivity but instead to “increase transparency and reduce anxiety” around the admissions process. He named the Inside the Yale Admissions Office podcast — which first launched three years ago — as another element of the effort to share straightforward information about how the Yale admissions process works.
Students will receive their Regular Decision application decisions via the Yale Admissions Status Portal by April 1.
Correction, Feb. 8: A former version of this article stated that Yale switched from binding early decision to non-binding single-choce early action in 2002, making the class of 2008 the first admitted to Yale under a non-binding early admissions model. However, while Yale did employ a binding early decision program from 1995 to 2002, the University offered a non-binding early option prior to that. The article has been updated accordingly.