According to NACAC's State of College Admission survey, there was an average increase of 4% in the number of Early Decision applications, and an average increase of 9% in Early Action applications between 2016 and 2017.
Colleges with Early Decision policies in fall 2017 reported a higher acceptance rate for their ED applicants as compared to all applicants – 62% versus 51% overall. Roughly 30% of private colleges offer an ED option, and more than half of the most selective colleges (those whose acceptance rate is less than 50%) offer an ED option. Similarly, the admit rate for Early Action (EA) was 74% on average compared to an admit rate of 64% on average for Regular Decision applicants.
Different Story at Ivies
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 where the highest admit rate for early applicants was roughly 25% (Dartmouth) and the lowest admit rate was 14.5% (Harvard). And for some of the other highly selective schools, early admit rates were 12% at Georgetown; 21% at Duke; and 25% at Notre Dame.
If a student is not accepted during the ED/EA round, he or 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.
What You Can Do
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.
If 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.