According to the 2017 edition of NACAC's State of College Admission survey, colleges with Early Decision policies reported a higher acceptance rate for their ED applicants as compared to all applicants – 60% versus 48% overall. And nearly half of the most selective colleges (those whose acceptance rate is less than 50%) offered an ED option. Similarly, the admit rate for Early Action (EA) was 71% on average compared to an admit rate of 65% on average for Regular Decision applicants.
Of course, the above statistics are averages for colleges and universities across the country. The table below shows how different the numbers are at the Ivies (and others) where the highest admit rate for early applicants is roughly 28% (Dartmouth) and the highest admit rate for Regular Decision applicants is nearly 11% (Cornell).
If a student is not accepted during the ED or EA round, he/she is either rejected outright or “deferred” to the Regular Decision pool of applicants. While this may be encouraging for students who theoretically still have a chance at acceptance, the number of deferred applicants who ultimately are admitted is very low. Many top tier universities, unfortunately, are guilty of deferring far too many early applicants.
Nevertheless, deferred students often prefer to remain optimistic and try to increase their chances of acceptance. Here’s what a student can do: ask the high school counselor to call the admissions office to learn if there is anything you can do (i.e. an alumni interview, another recommendation letter). More importantly, the counselor should inform the office that you will definitely enroll should you be accepted in the spring. The counselor can also find out if writing a deferral letter may work in your favor. But if the college specifically asks deferred students not to write a letter, don’t.
In case the counselor gives you the green light to draft a letter, keep it short (no more than 250 words) and write about how this institution can help you grow your interests and achieve your goals. What does this school offer that others don’t? How will you take advantage of their courses, internship and/or research opportunities? Choose one area about yourself and describe how you fit into this particular campus. It’s up to you to give this top-choice school another reason to take you.