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Though preparing an outstanding college application is time-consuming and stressful, it is possible to get the task done early and to submit an application in the fall. That’s well before regular admissions deadlines, which are typically in the winter.
At some schools, submitting admissions materials at the beginning of the admissions cycle is a major advantage to prospective students, as it may dramatically raise a candidate’s odds of acceptance.
Among the 257 ranked undergraduate institutions that supplied early and regular acceptance rates to U.S. News in an annual survey, 233 were more likely to admit students who applied early.
However, anyone who is considering sending an early college application should understand that there are different types of early admissions programs.
Early action programs allow a candidate to receive early consideration and an admissions decision sooner than if they had applied later, in the winter. But these programs do not require a promise to attend the school if accepted, thus allowing an admitted student to compare and negotiate financial aid offers from different schools. Some early action programs are restrictive, meaning that applicants who participate are limited in terms of where else they may apply early.
In contrast, early decision programs require someone to declare that the college where they are applying is their first choice and to make a binding commitment to attend if accepted, and there are serious repercussions for reneging.
Among ranked colleges with early admissions programs, the average early acceptance rate for early action applicants was 77.2%, while the average among early decision candidates was 62.2%. Meanwhile, the average regular acceptance rate was 53.5%.
The admissions advantage conferred by applying early is enormous at some colleges. Among the 10 undergraduate institutions where early applicants had the biggest edge, the average difference between early and regular admissions rates was about 48 percentage points.
Four of these 10 schools are National Liberal Arts Colleges, which emphasize undergraduate education and grant at least half of their degrees in liberal arts fields, and three are National Universities, which are often research-oriented and offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The remaining schools are Regional Universities, which offer a full range of undergraduate programs and some master’s programs but few, if any, doctoral programs.
Early applicants had the greatest lead at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. Early action applicants at Oglethorpe had an 87% acceptance rate, whereas regular applicants were admitted at a rate of only 31%, per U.S. News data.
On the flip side, some colleges have no preference for early candidates. Two colleges informed U.S. News that their early and regular acceptance rates were identical, and 22 schools revealed that they admitted regular applicants during the regular admissions round more often than they accepted early candidates early.
Wayne State University, a public school in Michigan, was where regular acceptance rates exceeded early ones by the greatest margin: 65 percentage points.
Below is a list of the 10 colleges where acceptance rates for early action or early decision surpassed regular acceptance rates by the greatest amount. At schools where it was possible to submit either an early action or early decision application, the acceptance rate displayed below is for the type of early admissions program where odds of acceptance were greatest.
Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be numerically ranked, were not considered for this report.
|School name (state)||Type of early admissions program||Early applicants admitted early*||Percent of regular applicants admitted||Difference in acceptance rates (percentage points)||U.S. News rank and category|
|Oglethorpe University (GA)||Early action only||87%||31%||56||165 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Trinity University (TX)||Early decision and early action||70% (EA)||16%||54||1, Regional Universities (West)|
|St. John’s College (MD)||Early decision and early action||100% (ED)||51%||49||67 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Grinnell College (IA)||Early decision only||65%||17%||48||13 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Augustana College (IL)||Early decision and early action||86% (EA)||38%||48||92 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|American University (DC)||Early decision only||83%||36%||47||79 (tie), National Universities|
|University of Denver||Early decision and early action||88% (EA)||41%||47||93 (tie), National Universities|
|Providence College (RI)||Early decision and early action||85% (ED)||41%||44||1, Regional Universities (North)|
|Texas Christian University||Early decision and early action||70% (EA)||26%||44||83 (tie), National Universities|
|Bentley University||Early decision only||100%||56%||44||2, Regional Universities (North)|
*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.
Don’t see your school in the top 10? Access the U.S. News College Compass to find early admissions data, complete rankings and much more. Sign up for the U.S. News Extra Help: College Admissions free email newsletter to receive expert advice twice a month.
U.S. News surveyed more than 1,850 colleges and universities for our 2021 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 comes 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 is correct as of Oct. 12, 2021.
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