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How to cope with early admission trends

Handsome high school studentToday, as many colleges fill about half their freshman class through early admissions, high school students are scrambling to keep up with a changed timetable. Your chances of getting into the school of your choice may dwindle if you wait for the regular admissions deadline.

And there’s money at stake, too, because financial aid options may be different for early admissions. I wrote a detailed article about early admission trends last year.

Now I’d like to explain how you can make sure early admissions doesn’t place you at a disadvantage. The key is to recalibrate the whole timeline of your college search and application process. Once a student starts high school, you can take steps to lower everyone’s stress levels and increase the odds of success. But, no matter what year of school a student is in, it may be necessary to pick up the pace.

Not long ago, high school students and their families who began touring colleges during the spring and summer of junior year could be confident that they were on top of things. Now the summer after junior year is late to begin college visits. I advise students who are thinking about early admission to start their college research—and do at least some visits—during sophomore year.

Put time on your side

Kick-starting the college search in 10th grade may sound excessive at first. But, if you figure out the timing, working backwards from senior year, it makes sense. To meet the early admission deadline in November, high school seniors need to know their first choice by early in the fall. That means completing their college research and visits before senior year. Otherwise they won’t be ready to choose a favorite school. Nor will they be in a position to write a strong application.

Researching schools and creating a realistic college list takes a lot of time. Ideally a student should spend months reading about schools and talking them over with teachers, parents and advisers before they plan their first visits. Researching schools carefully before you choose which ones to visit can save a lot of time, energy and money. So it makes sense to start investigating colleges and developing a tentative list in 10th grade.

Leave time to rethink

Between sophomore and senior year, a student’s college list may change, as his or her priorities and sense of direction develop. That’s normal and healthy. But students who’ve been weighing their options for several years are in a better position to make sound decisions than those who wait until junior year to start the process.

Of course, researching schools and making a list is only one part of the college search and admissions process. Long before that, a student should be focusing on his or her academics and extracurricular activities and considering where these may lead. While some of the building blocks of a college-ready resume are obvious—a strong academic record, for example—other elements, such as extracurricular activities, may not be.

Well-intentioned parents often push their teenagers to pack their schedules with extracurriculars—everything from sports and debating teams to tutoring and extensive community service commitments. But emphasizing quantity over quality is seldom a good idea. Most highly selective schools are more interested in a student’s ability to focus than in their ability to fill every hour of every day.

The freshmen and sophomore years are a time when students should think carefully about who they are, where they are going and what they love best. Clear-headed decisions about how to spend your free time now will pay off when you begin the actual application process in senior year. Should you decide to apply early—and when you see the statistics on early admissions, there’s a good chance you will—you’ll be well placed to do so successfully.

No matter what grade you’re in, the sooner you prepare for the college admissions process the better.


% of early applicants and % of incoming class

CLASS OF 2019                                           CLASS OF 2018

EA students admitted % of EA applicants admitted % of incoming class
EA students admitted % of EA applicants admitted
% of incoming class
Brown 617 20 39* 583 19 37
Dartmouth 483 26 43* 469 28 40
Duke 815 26 48 797 25 47
Harvard 977 17 48* 992 21 49
J. Hopkins 539 29 41* 526 33 40
MIT 625 10 60* 612 9 59
Princeton 767 20 40* 714 19 37
Stanford 743 10 44* 748 11 44
U. of Penn 1316 24 54* 1299 25 54
Williams 244 41 44* 237 43 43
Yale 753 16 55 735 15 54

* Numbers based on Class of 2018 class sizes.

For more information about early admissions trends, read my article, How Early Admission is Changing the College Application Process.