U.S. News & World Report has released a list of the 10 universities where early application yields the greatest advantage.
Early decision -- and its kinder, gentler counterpart, early action -- is one of the most controversial pieces of an increasingly complex admissions puzzle.
Colleges that offer early decision typically promise a better chance of admission to students who promise to attend if admitted. It's supposed to be ideal for a student with a dream school, a clear first choice. The downside, of course, is that once admitted, the student cannot change her or his mind.
Students game the system by applying early decision to a longshot school that is not necessarily a first choice. That sort of gambit is frowned upon by counselors and best captured by the paradoxical statement, 'I know I want to apply early decision, I just don't know where.'
Colleges game the system by accepting ever greater numbers of students through the early decision process. Doing this, they boost their yield, or the share of admitted students who choose to attend. That's important, because yield is one of the most closely watched metrics in college admissions.
But those colleges pay a price. The very top students aren't likely to apply early decision anywhere. They want their options open. So, a university such as Johns Hopkins or Penn, which is likely to draw the very top students in the nation through regular admissions, probably will lose some of those prospects in early decision, because those students want a shot at Harvard and Yale.
Early decision is criticized as unfairly narrowing students' options. It's said to favor the well-prepared and the rich, students who can afford to circumvent the usual process of shopping around among competing schools. But students generally say they like the early decision option.
A variant, early action, is essentially the same program without the promise to attend. It still helps the student, who gets an early reply from the college, and it helps the college assemble some of the freshman class ahead of schedule. Georgetown and Howard universities use early action.
The U.S. News list comes from its newly released Ultimate College Guide for 2011. Most of the schools represented, including Johns Hopkins and College of William and Mary, seem to use early decision rather than early action.
The first set of numbers in the chart is the "early" admit rate at the college. The second column is the "regular" rate. The last column is the difference.
Here is the chart.
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