The U.S. News Short List, separate from our overall rankings, is a regular series that magnifies individual data points in hopes of providing students and parents a way to find which undergraduate or graduate programs…
The U.S. News Short List, separate from our overall rankings, is a regular series that magnifies individual data points in hopes of providing students and parents a way to find which undergraduate or graduate programs excel or have room to grow in specific areas. Be sure to explore The Short List: College, The Short List: Grad School and The Short List: Online Programs to find data that matter to you in your college or graduate school search.
Early college applicants can sometimes enjoy improved odds of being accepted at their dream school.
In fact, the National Association for College Admission Counseling found in a 2017 report that schools offering early decision accepted an average of nearly 60 percent of ED applicants in fall 2016. Early decision is a college admissions option available at some schools where students usually apply in November. Accepted ED students, with a few exceptions, must enroll at the institution.
The NACAC study shows the average overall acceptance rate was almost 48 percent in fall 2016, nearly 12 percentage points lower than the early decision rate. The report also revealed that colleges with early action programs were less selective, with an EA average acceptance rate of 71 percent compared with 65 percent overall. Unlike with ED, students who apply early action do not have to commit to the school.
At more than 100 colleges and universities, the average percent of applicants admitted during early decision or early action was higher than the average acceptance rate in the regular admissions pool, according to the 210 ranked colleges that reported both their early and regular acceptance rates to U.S. News in an annual survey.
Some schools give early applicants a significant admissions advantage. For instance, at Bryan College in Tennessee, all of the school’s early applicants for fall 2017 were admitted early, compared with 75 percent of applicants in its regular admissions pool.
Among Ivy League institutions, Harvard University in Massachusetts had the greatest edge for early applicants for fall 2017. The average early acceptance rate was around 51 percent for the fall 2017 entering class, a whopping difference of around 48 percentage points compared with regular admissions at 3 percent.
At the 10 colleges where early applicants had the greatest advantage over regular applicants, the average early acceptance rate was nearly 83 percent compared with an average regular acceptance rate of nearly 20 percent. Tulane University had the greatest edge among all ranked schools that reported these data. Early applicants at the Louisiana institution enjoyed nearly a 93 percentage point advantage over those who applied during regular admissions.
Below are the 10 colleges whose early acceptance rates exceeded their regular acceptance rates by the biggest margin in fall 2017. Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be numerically ranked, were not considered for this report.
Percent of early applicants admitted early*
Percent of regular applicants admitted
Difference in acceptance rates (percentage points)
*Combines early decision and early action programs at colleges that have both. Some colleges defer some applicants to the regular admissions pool, where they have an additional chance of admittance, so the percentage of early applicants who are eventually accepted may be higher.
U.S. News surveyed more than 1,800 colleges and universities for our 2018 survey of undergraduate programs. Schools self-reported myriad data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News’ data the most accurate and detailed collection of college facts and figures of its kind. While U.S. News uses much of this survey data to rank schools for our annual Best Colleges rankings, the data can also be useful when examined on a smaller scale. U.S. News will now produce lists of data, separate from the overall rankings, meant to provide students and parents a means to find which schools excel, or have room to grow, in specific areas that are important to them. While the data come from the schools themselves, these lists are not related to, and have no influence over, U.S. News’ rankings of Best Colleges, Best Graduate Schools or Best Online Programs. The acceptance rate data above are correct as of Nov. 6, 2018.