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Early Application Options for US Colleges

All colleges offer high school seniors the option to apply through Regular Decision application plans, in which students typically apply by early January, are notified of admissions decisions by April 1, are not restricted by how many colleges to apply to, and are not bound to attend. Sounds straightforward, right?

But the last few decades have seen a proliferation of numerous “early” admissions options, each with its own rules. For high school students looking ahead to the college admissions process, the variety of early application plans may seem confusing! Should you apply to colleges through Early Decision, Early Action, Single Choice Early Action, or Rolling Admissions plans? Here’s a guide to help you sort through your different options so that you can understand the impact of the different plans and decide which is right for you.

A few relevant terms for early application plans are:

  • Binding: the student is committed to attending the college, if accepted
  • Restrictive: the student may not apply to another admissions program. ED and SCEA are restrictive (applicants can only apply to one such program), while EA, RD, and Rolling plans are not.

EARLY ADMISSIONS PLANS

The two main early admissions plans are Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA), including Single Choice Early Action (SCEA). Of the 3500 colleges in the US, about 450 colleges offer one of these early plans. Some colleges, like University of Miami, offer both ED and EA. Typically, early applications are due between Nov 1 – Dec 1, and decisions are given about one month later.

  • Early Decision (ED) applications are binding, so students should reserve this for their first-choice college. Students agree to attend if accepted, so they can only apply to one college through Early Decision. Typically students may simultaneously apply to EA or RD programs, but it’s best to check the colleges’ websites for their policies.
    • Examples: Brown, Northwestern, Rice, Williams
  • Early Action (EA) applications are not binding, so students can typically apply to multiple colleges through Early Action.
    • Examples: CalTech, Georgetown, MIT, Northeastern
  • Single Choice Early Action (SCEA) is a hybrid of Early Decision and Early Action in that students are restricted to one such application, but it is not binding. This plan is sometimes referred to as Restrictive Early Action (REA). Typically, students can apply to public institutions at the same time.
    • Examples: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford
  • Rolling Admission applications are reviewed as they are received, and students are accepted on a rolling basis until spaces are filled.
    • Examples: Columbia College Chicago, Eckerd College, Kings College London
  • Priority Deadlines are used by many large public institutions to try to identify which of the multitudes of applicants have the strongest interest in attending the school. Such colleges state that applying by the priority deadline (typically in November) will result in a quicker admissions decision, increase the student’s chance of being accepted, and boost the chance of receiving scholarships.
    • Examples: Ohio State University, Penn State University, University of Maryland

FALL DEADLINES FOR REGULAR DECISION

To add to the complications, there are a few college-specific deadlines in the fall that may affect RD applications. It’s critical to read the fine print on colleges’ admissions websites in order to keep informed of colleges’ policies:

  • For the University of California system, applications must be filed from November 1 – November 30 and students are notified of decisions in mid-March. So while the deadline is early in the school year, there is no corresponding Regular Decision process. In contrast, some colleges, such as University of Southern California (USC) offer only Regular Decision with no early application plans.
  • MIT offers both Early Action (November 1 deadline) and Regular Action (January 1 deadline), but has earlier deadlines for scheduling alumni interviews (October 20 and December 10, respectively); and your chances of acceptance are far greater if you interview.
  • The Emory University Scholars Program offers merit scholarships to students who apply by November 15, regardless of whether the application is ED or RD.

The college admissions process is constantly changing. To keep on top of trends and policies, contact Collegiate Gateway! As always, we’re happy to help!
 

 

Regular Admissions Trends for the Class of 2020

Once again, it was a wild year in college admissions. Assessing the likelihood of acceptance to highly selective private and public universities was as unpredictable as ever, and while some applicants were lucky enough to receive early admission to their top choice, many students were dealt an uncertain hand of deferrals and spots on waitlists.

As a follow-up to our previous blog on Early Admissions Trends for the Class of 2020, here’s an in-depth comparison of this year’s regular decision statistics to recent college admissions cycles. To assist applicants who will be applying this fall, our analysis will conclude with a helpful list of tips for crafting your “best-fit” college list.

Acceptance Rates

This year, regular decision acceptance tended to either hold steady or drop slightly. As in past years, highly sought-after private and public universities continue to receive more applications, offer lower admit rates, and fill more of their freshman class through early admissions.

Many schools had a record-breaking year of applications, including Bowdoin, Brown, Cornell, Princeton, NYU, Northwestern, Tufts, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale. Princeton’s applicant pool has doubled over the past decade.

Many of the country’s most selective institutions, with overall admit rates under 15%, became even more competitive over the past two years. For example, Johns Hopkins dropped from 15% to 11.5%, Northwestern fell from 12.9% to 10.7%, and Swarthmore declined from 16.8% to 12.5%. Stanford has the lowest admit rate at just 4.7%. This year, Barnard, Bowdoin, Duke, Harvard, Northwestern, Tufts, UC-Berkeley, and USC all reported record-low admit rates.

According to Richard Shaw, dean of admission and financial aid at Stanford University, these ultra-low admit rates are the product of several factors: top students applying to many more schools, higher demand across many demographics (including international applicants), and college advising that encourages students to apply to their dream schools, as opposed to schools that are a good fit and offer a better chance of admission. According to U.S. News, higher applicant numbers are the result of the Common Application and other online admissions processes, which most schools have adopted. Universities also use innovative ways to market themselves to prospective applicants, especially through social media.

Notre Dame has seen a 34% increase in applications over the past six years, and their overall acceptance rate has dropped from 24.3% to 18.3% over the past five years. According to Don Bishop, Associate Vice President of Undergraduate Enrollment at Notre Dame, as competitive as the Class of 2020 is, these numbers would be even more selective if the University practiced admissions strategies used by other schools seeking to improve their rankings.

“There are colleges being criticized for going out there and getting a large number of applicants that they’re going to reject. A group of schools that seemingly are recruiting students they’re going to turn down. Notre Dame has not engaged in that practice.”

Acceptance Rates for the Class of 2018 through 2020

College

 

(Note Early Admissions Plan:

ED vs EA)

Regular Acceptance Rate for Class of 2020* Early Acceptance Rate for Class of 2020 Regular Acceptance Rate for Class of 2019* Early Acceptance Rate for Class of 2019 Overall Acceptance Rate for Class of 2020 Overall Acceptance Rate for Class of 2019 Overall Acceptance Rate for Class of 2018
Amherst College (ED) 12.2% 39.6% 12.4% 35.6% 13.7% 13.7% 13%
Bowdoin College (ED I) 11.6% 33.7% n/a 31% 14.3% 14.9% 14.9%
Brown University (ED) 7.6% 22% 7.2% 20.3% 9% 8.5% 8.6%
California Institute of Technology (EA) n/a n/a n/a n/a 7.9% 9% 9%
Claremont McKenna College (ED) n/a n/a 9% 27% 9.4% 11% 10%
Columbia University (ED) n/a n/a n/a n/a 6% 6.1% 6.94%
Cornell University (ED) n/a n/a n/a n/a 14% 14.9% 14%
Dartmouth College (ED) 8.9% 26% 8.8% 26% 10.5% 10.3% 11.5%
Duke University (ED) 8.7% 23.5% 9.4% 26% 10.4% 11% 11%
Georgetown University (REA) n/a 13% n/a 13% 16.4% 16.4% 16.6%
Harvard University (SCEA) 3.4% 14.8% 3.2% 16.5% 5.2% 5.3% 5.9%
Johns Hopkins University (ED) 10.1% 30.3% 11% 28.9% 11.5% 12.4% 15%
Lehigh University (ED) n/a n/a n/a 44% n/a 30% 34%
MIT (EA) 7.4% 8.4% 7.1% 9.6% 7.8% 8% 7.7%
Middlebury College (ED I) 12.7% 53.1% 14.7% 45.3% 16% 17% 17.3%
Northwestern University (ED) 8.4% 35% 10.8% 36.2% 10.7% 13.1% 12.9%
Pomona College (ED) n/a n/a n/a 19% 9.1% 10.3% 12.2%
Princeton University (SCEA) 4.4% 18.5% 4.9% 19.9% 6.46% 6.99% 7.28%

Rice University

(ED)

n/a n/a 15.6% 20.4% n/a 16% 14.1%
Stanford University (SCEA) 3.6% 9.5% 3.9% 10.2% 4.7% 5.05% 5.07%
Swarthmore College (ED) n/a n/a n/a n/a 12.5% 12.2% 16.8%

UC – Berkeley

(EA)

n/a n/a n/a n/a 14.8% 17% 17%
University of Chicago (EA) n/a n/a n/a n/a 7.6% 7.8% 8.4%
University of Notre Dame (REA) 13.8% 30.3% 16.2% 29.8% 18.3% 19.7% 20.8%
University of Pennsylvania (ED) 7% 23.2% 7.5% 24% 9.4% 9.9% 9.9%
University of Virginia (EA) 28.8% 28.9% 26.6% 30.2% 28.8% 28.5% 28.9%

USC

(No early program)

16.5% n/a 17.5% n/a 16.5% 17.5% 17.8%
Vanderbilt University (ED) 8.8% 23.6% 9.5% 22.5% 10.5% n/a 12%
Washington Univ. in St. Louis (ED) n/a n/a n/a n/a 16.2% 16.7% 17.1%
Williams College (ED) 15% 42% 14.5% 41% 17.3% 16.8% 18.2%
Yale University (SCEA) 4.4% 17% 4.7% 16% 6.3% 6.5% 6.3%

*Regular admission acceptance rate calculations do not include early admission deferral numbers.

Large Percentage of Freshman Class Filled with Early Applicants

Some schools continue to admit large portions of the freshman class through early admissions, making regular admissions even more competitive. More students tend to apply through regular decision, so they are competing for fewer remaining positions in the class.

As a reminder, early decision is binding so universities are guaranteed the applicants’ attendance, as compared with early action, which is non-binding and allows students until May 1 to decide. As a result, colleges with early decision programs tend to admit a higher percentage of early applicants, who have demonstrated such strong interest, and their binding commitment helps in determining admissions yield for the incoming class.

This year, schools that admitted 40% to 50% of their incoming class through their early decision program include Brown, Duke, Northwestern, Penn, Williams, and Vanderbilt.

Expanding Enrollment

Some schools are accommodating increased applications with plans to expand enrollment. Princeton, Stanford, UVA, Washington University in St. Louis, and Yale all have strategic plans to increase incoming class size over several years. Princeton’s plan to expand the class size by 11% was motivated by the desire to “enhance the quality of the overall educational experience at Princeton and make more effective use of the University’s extraordinary resources.” At the same time, University President John L. Hennessy says that Stanford has plans to grow but wants to be careful that size does not diminish experience, and the school will make future growth decisions dependent upon feedback from students and professors.

Determining Yield

Many schools are struggling to predict yield, the number of admitted applicants who will decide to attend their institution, as universities increase in popularity and selectivity. This, in turn, can impact admissions rates. For example, Duke’s Dean of Admissions, Christoph Guttentag, said that one factor in this year’s low admissions rate was last year’s exceptionally high regular decision yield rate.

“Because the number of students we admitted last year resulted in over enrollment, we admitted fewer students this year on the assumption that the yield will be similar,” Guttentag said. “We have admitted 150 students fewer than last year.”

At Lehigh, the Class of 2018 hit overcapacity, and caused the university to accept fewer students in 2015. However, the Class of 2019 was still over capacity, forcing Lehigh to further recalculate yield predictions for the Class of 2020.

Similarly, MIT has also experienced increasing yield over the years, from 65% in 2011 to 73% in 2015. Stu Schmill, Dean of Admissions, only expects it to keep going up as students continue to recognize “the value and excitement of MIT.”

Increasing Diversity

Increasing the diversity of incoming classes has become a top priority for the admissions departments at many schools. This includes international applicants, students from varying socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, and first-generation college students.

Schools are seeking top-quality students from diverse backgrounds through a variety of programs. Pomona College, for example, partners with A Better Chance, Chicago Scholars, the KIPP Foundation and the Sutton Trust, as well as numerous local and regional programs, to connect with applicants from under-resourced schools. The University of Pennsylvania and Williams have similar programs.

This year, Duke began the Washington Duke Scholars, which nationally seeks to find first-generation college students who demonstrate financial need. Georgetown has a comparable program, called the Georgetown Scholarship Program.

Many schools are committed to increasing diversity and the makeup of their admitted applicant pool demonstrates this goal. At Cornell University, a record 27% of the admitted applicants self-identify as underrepresented minority students and 49% are students of color, which includes Asian-Americans and underrepresented minorities. UC-Berkeley has increased admission of Chicano/Latino students by 28.8% and African American admissions by 32% since last year.

Harvard also set records in admitting a freshman class comprised of 14% African Americans and 22.1% Asian-Americans. Nearly 37% of Johns Hopkins regular decision admits self-identify as members of underrepresented minorities, a school record. Northwestern admitted a record number of international and Chicago Public Schools students through early decision, and a record number of Pell-eligible students through regular decision.

Tips for Future Applicants

In a competitive admissions climate that’s increasingly concerned with yield, demonstrating interest is more important than ever. Therefore, apply to 10-12 colleges (a manageable number) so that you can visit all of the schools in which you are interested. When you visit, register with the admissions reception desk. Schools track visits, and see this as the strongest possible way to demonstrate interest.

If you are applying early admissions, visit the college by November 15. If you are applying regular admissions visit in the fall of your senior year, or by February 15 at the latest.

Many universities have made increasing the diversity of incoming classes a top admissions priority. If you identify with an under-represented minority, participate in diversity days hosted by the college, if appropriate.

Highly selective schools are experiencing higher applicant pools, acceptance rates are low and dropping, and many students are told to dream big. When crafting your college list, make sure that you would be happy to attend any school on your list. Do not apply to a university that is not a good fit, or about which you have reservations. Be very realistic about your chances and have grounded expectations. Your college list should have a healthy distribution of reach, target, and safe schools. While early acceptance rates tend to be higher than regular acceptance rates, applying early has become harder to predict. Think carefully and strategically about your early admissions choice.

The college admissions process can be overwhelming, and it may feel difficult to know where to start. At Collegiate Gateway, we are happy to share our expertise and guide you on the path to your “best fit” college. Please feel free to contact us! As always, we’re happy to help!

Regular Admissions Trends for the Class of 2019

As a follow-up to our blog on Early Admissions Trends for the Class of 2019, we bring you highlights from this year’s Regular Admissions outcomes! From increasing selectivity to expanding financial aid programs, here are some of the most noteworthy trends in college admissions.

Overall Acceptance Rates

Overall, application numbers and acceptance rates were fairly steady compared to last year. Duke’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, Christoph Guttentag, said, “Nationwide we’ve stopped seeing that sharp increase [in applications] that we saw from about 2008 to 2013 across the board. I think for most schools that has settled down.” But many selective universities still showed modest increases in selectivity.  For example, Harvard’s overall acceptance rate over the past year declined from 5.9% for the Class of 2018 to 5.3% for the Class of 2019; Princeton’s, from 7.28% to 6.99% and Williams, from 18.2% to 16.9%.

In general, colleges continue to admit a much higher rate of students from the early, rather than the regular, applicant pool. The early versus regular acceptance rates, cited in the table below, illustrate the impact of students demonstrating interest to top-choice schools by applying early (and thereby improving their chances of acceptance). While this may make applying early that much more enticing, keep in mind a binding Early Decision admissions program (as opposed to a non-binding Early Action program) should only be pursued if the college is your absolute first choice, and you understand your binding commitment to attend.

Acceptance Rates for the Class of 2019 versus 2018

 

 

School

Regular Acceptance Rate for Class of 2019* Early Acceptance Rate for Class of 2019 Overall Admissions Acceptance Rate for Class of 2019 Overall Admissions Acceptance Rate for Class of 2018
Bowdoin College n/a n/a 14.9% 14.9%
Brown University (ED) 7.2% 20.3% 8.5% 8.6%
California Institute of Technology (EA) n/a n/a n/a 9%
California, University of, Berkeley n/a n/a n/a 17%
Columbia University (ED) n/a n/a 6.1% 6.94%
Cornell University (ED) n/a n/a 14.9% 14%
Dartmouth College (ED) 8.8% 26% 10.3% 11.5%
Duke University (ED) 7.4% 26% 9.4% 9%
Georgetown University (EA) 18.1% 13% 16.4% 16.6%
Harvard University (SCEA) 3.2% 16.5% 5.3% 5.9%
Johns Hopkins University (ED) 11% 28.9% 12.4% 15%
Lehigh University n/a n/a n/a 34%
MIT (EA) 7.1% 9.6% 8% 7.7%
Middlebury College (ED) 14.7% 45.3% 17% 17.3%
Northwestern University (ED) 10.8% 36.2% 13.1% 12.9%
Princeton University (SCEA) 4.9% 19.9% 6.99% 7.28%
Rice University n/a n/a 14.7% 14.1%
Stanford University (SCEA) 3.9% 10.2% 5.05% 5.07%
Swarthmore College n/a n/a 12.2% 16.8%
University of Chicago (EA) n/a n/a 7.8% 8.4%
University of Notre Dame (REA) 16.2% 29.8% 19.7% 20.8%
University of Pennsylvania (ED) 7.5% 24% 9.9% 9.9%
University of Southern California n/a n/a 17.5% 17.8%
University of Virginia n/a n/a 28.5% 28.9%
Vanderbilt University 9.5% n/a n/a 12.3%
Washington University in St. Louis n/a n/a n/a 17.1%
Williams College (ED) 14.5% 41% 16.8% 18.2%
Yale University (SCEA) 4.7% 16% 6.5% 6.3%

*Regular admission acceptance rate calculations do not include early admission deferral numbers.

Notable Moments from this year’s Regular Admissions Process

Some schools did see a jump in the number of applicants

Though many schools continued to see application numbers level off, a few did experience significant growth. Vanderbilt, an increasingly popular university, has had its acceptance rate plummet over the past eight years due to a significant rise in the number of applicants. This year, 27,822 students applied to attend Vanderbilt during the regular decision period, whereas in 2007, only 11,798 students applied regular decision. Vanderbilt’s regular decision acceptance rate was 31% in 2007. This year it was 9.5%, a continued drop from the 11% rate the previous year.

Douglas Christiansen, Vanderbilt’s vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions, explains that the rise in applications is caused by increased interest from international students, as well as those who live in other regions of the country.

“[Students are] responding to the educational brand, to the educational experience we’re offering. Vanderbilt has really moved into being a true national institution with national (and international) reach.”

Similarly, the University of Chicago received a 10% increase in applications from last year. According to The Chicago Maroon, “Much of the University of Chicago’s steep increase in applications is credited to recent changes in the application process. Applicant numbers rose after the University announced earlier in 2014 that it would be utilizing the Universal College Application (UCA), an alternate application system to the Common Application, for the Class of 2019. Technical glitches in the Common Application system around the time of application deadlines earlier last year resulted in a decline in applicants.”

The University of Chicago has also increased construction plans, from the new Institute of Molecular Engineering to the Logan Center for the Arts, which has attracted many new applicants.

Financial aid expands 

Stanford University made headlines this year when they raised the income thresholds at which parents are not expected to contribute toward tuition from $100,000 to $125,000. For parents with annual incomes below $65,000, there will be no parental contribution toward tuition and room and board.

Similarly, The University of Chicago announced that “No Barriers,” an expansion of the Odyssey Scholars program and other financial aid policy reforms, will take effect beginning with the Class of 2019. The university aims to eliminate loans, waive application fees, and provide additional funding and support for low- and middle-income students.

“With UChicago ‘No Barriers’ and our other commitments, we are ensuring that people from all backgrounds and all incomes can afford to attend the University, and that they can thrive and succeed in whatever path they choose,” said President Robert J. Zimmer.

According to The Washington Post, Franklin & Marshall College has also expanded its need-based financial aid program and decreased its merit-based aid program.

A continued shift in the popularity of intended majors

Due to the economic climate, the overall popularity of business, healthcare, and STEM-related majors continues to rise. Swarthmore College states that engineering is the most popular intended major among the admitted students for the Class of 2019.

According to USA Today, four of the five fastest growing majors are in STEM or pre-pre-professional fields: health and medical prep programs (31%), homeland security and emergency preparedness (26%), physical sciences (25%), and engineering-related fields (23%). The only exception is behavioral science (89% growth), which falls within the liberal arts.

As a result, many schools have filled up the admissions slots in these areas, and are looking to accept liberal arts or undecided majors. At Georgetown, for example, science classes and spots for incoming science majors have all been filled. Therefore, the College waitlist is expected to only see movement for students with undeclared majors. The McDonough School of Business and the School of Nursing and Health Studies have also been completely filled for the class of 2019.

Likewise, the University of Notre Dame has recently capped enrollment in its Mendoza Business School at 550 students per class, due to overcrowding from internal transfers, especially from the College of Arts and Letters. Bloomberg Business has ranked Notre Dame’s undergraduate business program number one in the country for the past five years.

“While the total number of Notre Dame undergraduates has essentially held constant over the past 10 years, the number of undergraduates enrolled in Arts & Letters has plummeted,” said the Observer. “Political science, once the most popular undergraduate major with 684 enrollees, has lost 38% of its students since the spring of 2004. Likewise, the history department has dropped from 324 to 196 undergraduate majors, and English has fallen from 424 to 239. Over the same period, the number of finance majors has climbed from 368 to 482 (25%). It is now the most popular major at Notre Dame.”

Application extensions

This year, several colleges, including Bates, Chicago, Duke, Dartmouth, Columbia, and Vanderbilt, offered extensions for their January admissions deadlines.

The University of Pennsylvania gave applicants an extra four days to submit application materials. “The Office of Admissions chose to extend the deadline in order to provide students with more time to enjoy their holidays. Previously, the deadline had only been extended in the case of extenuating circumstances, such as Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and Common Application glitches last year.”

According to Bloomberg Business, “Colleges that extend deadlines say they are merely trying to give more students a chance to apply and receive scholarships. Yet students and even some colleges are asking whether the extra days are penalizing on-time applicants. The extensions are bewildering teenagers and high school guidance counselors.”

Another reason for these extensions may have to do with the fact that application numbers are beginning to level off. Perhaps colleges have extended deadlines in order to increase or keep applications numbers steady, so that selectivity figures are not negatively impacted.

The tuition cost of public universities continues to rise

As a recent New York Times article recently highlighted, most elite public universities are raising tuition for in-state students. At the same time, they are also restricting the number of in-state students admitted in order to make way for out-of-state and international students (who pay even higher tuition). Overall, the result is that college is becoming less and less affordable for many families.

The LA Times discusses the particularly heated battle between the University of California system and state government over university funding. “In recent years, UC sharply increased the numbers of students from outside the state because they pay about $23,000 more in tuition than Californians do. But the rising presence of non-Californians is a hot political item, and legislative proposals to increase state funding to the UC require a freeze on their ranks.”

UC President Janet Napolitano said the number of out-of-state students offered admission will be capped next year at UCLA and Berkeley, “where the demand is highest,” but she did not freeze non-resident admissions at the other seven undergraduate campuses.

Deciding where – and how – to apply to college can be daunting. For guidance deciphering your options and understanding the changing landscape of college admissions, contact Collegiate Gateway – as always, we’re happy to help.