Category Archives: Early Decision

The earth has shifted for most American colleges

The admissions results for the Class of 2024 may be the final snapshot of a passing era. The deadline for applications was the end of January. Decisions were announced in late March. By April 1, most colleges had ceased operation due to the pandemic. Therefore, admissions to the Class of 2024 were not affected by the pandemic, but next year’s certainly will be.

Since decisions were released, the pandemic has frustrated those admittees who must choose from multiple acceptance offers. For those who have made their choice, the pandemic is interfering with all that normally precedes the fall semester.

Exactly what the fall semester will entail is unclear. Most college administrations are undecided, Columbia Universibut some have announced that students will be on campus in the fall with social distancing rules in place. Others have determined that they’ll only offer online classes in the fall. Many students will need to weigh the health risk of the full campus experience against the safety of virtual classrooms. Understandably, a higher than usual percentage of students are considering taking a gap year.

The earth has shifted for most American colleges

They will be severely tested by the decline in revenue that the pandemic is causing. Many will be forced to reduce their budgets, which may mean cuts to faculty, curricula, majors, residential and campus amenities, sports, recreational and cultural programs, and other features of a college’s value to students. This portends significant changes to the historical patterns of college admissions.

One positive result of this unpredictability is that waitlisted students are much more likely to be admitted. Concern over potentially low yield rates has motivated even the most elite colleges to go deeper into their waitlists than in the past. If you’re waitlisted, don’t hesitate to call an admissions office for an update on your status.

Although there were a few anomalies in the 2020 results, most colleges, especially the most highly selective ones, continued their pre-pandemic trend towards more applications and lower admissions rates. Table A shows the rates for a sampling of highly selective and popular regional institutions compared to their rates in 2019. Following Table A are comments about a few of the colleges.

 Table A: Admission Rates for the Class of 2024 (Fall 2020)

 

Institution

Class of 2024

Admission Rate (%)

    Class of 2023

Admission Rate (%)

American University 38              35
Amherst College 12              11
Barnard College 11              11
Boston College 24              27
Boston University 19              18
Bowdoin College 8                9
Brown University 7                7
CalTech 6                6
Carleton College 20             19
Clemson University 47             47
Colby College 9             10
Columbia Int’l University 34             33
Columbia University 6               5
Cornell University 11             11
Dartmouth College 9               8
Duke University 8               7
Emory University 20            27
Emory (Oxford) 23            20
Fordham 46            44
Furman College 61            61
Georgia Tech 20            19
Georgetown University 15            14
George Washington 39            41
Harvard University 5              5
Johns Hopkins University 9              9
Lander University 43           43
Limestone College 14           14
Macalester College 37           31
Middlebury College 24           16
MIT 7             7
New York University 15          16
Northeastern 19          18
Northwestern University 9            9
Princeton University 6            6
Rice University 10            9
Swarthmore College 9            9
Tufts University 15         15
University of Chicago 6           6
University of Georgia 46         45
University of Florida 29         34
University of Notre Dame 17         16
University of Pennsylvania 8           7
Univ. Southern California 16         11
Univ. of South Carolina 63         63
University of Virginia 21         24
Vanderbilt University 9           8
Washington University 13          14
Wellesley College 19          20
Wesleyan University 20          16
Wofford College 64          66
Yale University 6.5            5

Middlebury College: The admissions rate at Middlebury retreated sharply from 16% in 2019 to 24% in 2020. No explanation has been provided by the school’s press office.

Emory University: Emory’s admissions rate tightened from 27% in 2019 to 21% this year.

Brown University: Brown’s results for the Early Decision cycle saw applications up to an all-time high of 4,562. Its ED admissions rate was the lowest in the school’s history at 18%. However, the Regular Decision rate rose from 2019, bringing the overall admissions rate more in line with past results at 7%.

University of Southern California: USC’s acceptance rate increased to 16% for the Class of 2024, up from 11% in 2019. The University received 6,000 fewer applications in 2020 than in 2019. This is the first year that prospective students applied to the University after the Varsity Blues scandal, and the results are considered a reflection of that fact.

Wesleyan University: Wesleyan accepted 2,351 students to the Class of 2024 out of 12,752 applicants. While the University has experienced an upward trend in applications in the past, the applicant pool was smaller than usual this year. As a result, the admissions rate eased from 16% in 2019 to 20% in 2020.

Williams College: Williams admitted more students than usual this year in anticipation of a less predictable yield. Over the last five years, the College has accepted an average of 1,197 students for a target class size of 550. This year, Williams admitted 1,250, making it one of the few colleges that anticipated the potential ramifications of the pandemic in its early stages.

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Why you should stick to an early decision agreement

If you’ve been accepted by a college through its Early Decision (ED) plan you may consider yourself fortunate, as you should.  You’ve applied to a school that’s at or near the top of your target list because the likelihood of acceptance for ED applicants is higher than the overall rate Early decisionfor the college. You’ve been admitted before most of your fellow students have even submitted applications. You can rest easier than your classmates and enjoy the rest of your senior year without the stress of admissions hanging over your head!

And yet, some students who have been accepted through an ED plan want to renege on their agreement later because events have transpired that cause them to regret their commitment. At that point they want to know if their ED agreement is binding and if they can disregard it without consequences.

Consider the Early Decision agreement you’ve signed

The answer isn’t simple. You, your guidance counselor, and your parents signed an agreement that stipulates that you understand that you’re committing to attend the institution if admitted. So, yes, it’s binding. But an ED agreement isn’t a contract that, if breached, can subject you to civil liability.

Consider the agreement that you’re asked to sign. A majority of the colleges that offer ED options do so under the Statement of Principles of Good Practice of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), which guides the institutional treatment of students. Section II of the NACAC document, titled “The Responsible Practice of College Admission”, includes this definition:

Restrictive early application plansEarly Decision (ED): Students commit to a first choice college and, if admitted, agree to enroll and withdraw their other college applications. This is the only application plan where students are required to accept a college’s offer of admission and submit a deposit prior to May 1.”

When you submit an ED application, what you’re agreeing to do is clear. While pursuing admission under an ED plan, students may apply to other institutions under an Early Action (EA) plan, but they may submit only one ED application. If an ED applicant is not admitted but is deferred to the Regular Decisions (RD) cycle, they’re immediately released from the ED agreement and are free to accept any other colleges’ offer of admission.

There are changes in a student’s circumstances that will induce a college to release him or her from their ED commitment. Before we review these circumstances, you should understand what may happen if you  simply ignore an ED agreement after having been admitted.

What can happen if you ignore an Early Decision agreement

You may wonder why a college administration even cares if you break your ED agreement, given that many of them admit only a small percentage of applicants. They can readily fill your slot with another well-qualified applicant. Administrators care because they use ED as a tool to improve the quality of their freshmen classes and raise their yield rate. Yield rate is the percentage of applicants who are offered admission, accept it, and go on to attend the college. It is an important variable in a college’s planning, and colleges strive to keep it high. If applicants admitted under an ED plan can renege with impunity, the purpose of an ED plan is defeated and its value to the institution is nullified.

At the same time, colleges are reluctant to compel students to attend their school if they don’t want to be there. So the college whose ED acceptance you turn down isn’t going to come after you with bloodhounds and a posse. “In some ways, early decision is a gentleman’s agreement”, according to Dave Tobias, vice president of enrollment for Ursinus College in Pennsylvania.

Backing out of an Early Decision raises questions about the student’s ethics

Most importantly, when a student backs out of ED agreement without cause, it raises questions about the student’s ethics that could impact decisions elsewhere. Some guidance counselors and colleges take steps to discourage reneging on ED agreements. For example:

  • If an admissions office finds out that a student has applied to their institution and another via ED, they’ll contact the other school. The student risks being denied consideration by both schools.
  • A cooperative ED plan is operated by five Ivy League schools: Brown, Penn, Columbia, Cornell, and Dartmouth. If an ED applicant is admitted to one of them, they must honor Early decisions at Ivy league schoolstheir agreement or be ineligible for admission to any of the others. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton share a similar plan.
  • Many guidance counselors place a hold on sending transcripts, letters of recommendation, and other admissions materials on behalf of students who have applied via ED until the decision is known. This step is taken because a guidance counselor’s credibility with admissions officials is at stake.
  • A group of 30 liberal arts colleges share lists of students admitted to each of them via ED so that the others don’t unwittingly admit them. They also share the names of students who were admitted via ED but were released from their commitments.
  • Admissions officials sometimes discover from a guidance counselor that a student has submitted two or more ED applications. Counselors will warn students ahead of time of the impropriety of submitting multiple ED applications and, if the student persists, will contact the affected colleges, both of which will terminate consideration of the applicant.

Legitimate reasons for backing out of an Early Decision

As noted above, there are a number of legitimate reasons why a college will release an applicant from an ED commitment without any negative repercussions. Below are a few common examples:

  • Necessary financial aid from the college didn’t develop as originally planned,
  • A parent or other family member has died or fallen ill and enrollment at a college is no longer feasible or desirable,
  • A family business or a parent’s career has suffered a setback, and,
  • The student has suffered a serious health issue.

An ED agreement is a serious undertaking, often among the first formal commitments you’ll make in your lifetime. You should make a good faith effort to stick to it.  Klaar College Consulting can help you understand the commitment you’re making. More importantly, i your decision will be part of a sound admissions strategy that we co-develop with you to help ensure  the success of your college admissions campaign.