Want to Get In? Get In Early!

You’ve probably been eyeing a lot of top picks from Brown to Columbia, and you’ve probably been thinking a lot about how to increase your probability of acceptance. After you’ve maintained top grades, brainstormed the best essay topics, and gotten started on a polished personal statement, what else is there left to do? The next big step you’ll make is most likely when to apply—EA/ED (Early Action/Early Decision) versus Regular Decision. Our advice is exactly what it says in the title. Your best shot comes from an early application.

Why Early Decision/Early Action?

The truth of the matter is, if you’re ready to commit to one of the country’s best universities, the statistics prove that you’ll have the best chance while applying early. Here is a comparison of some of the top 30 colleges’ admissions rates, EA/ED vs. RD, from U.S. News. The numbers, some of which are also from U.S. News, speak for themselves:


2020-2021 Admission Data from a Sample of Top 30 Colleges

Princeton University 13.9%     6%
Harvard University   7.4%   2.57% ( source 1 ) ( source 2 )
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 7.4%     7%
Yale University 10.5%     3.42%
University of Pennsylvania   15%   5.68%
Johns Hopkins University     10.6% 7.05%
Duke   16.7%   6%
Dartmouth   21.2%   7.02%
Brown   15.9%   5.2%
Vanderbilt   18.1%   9.0%
Rice   16%   10.2%
Cornell   23.8%   N/A, though last year’s was 10.3%
Notre Dame 25.8%     16%
Emory   33% 13% 17.5%
Georgetown 10.8%     10.2% (Georgetown College)
UVA 21%     21%
UNC 28.1%     23%
NYU   38%   28%

Some of the early acceptance rates might not be drastically higher, but they are higher nonetheless. However, other early acceptance rates, such as Vanderbilt’s and UPenn’s, are TWICE OR MORE as large as the regular acceptance rates!

For colleges with EA programs, you’ll have even more incentive to apply. Not only can you get your foot in the door early, you won’t be obligated to attend that college if accepted, so you can remain flexible—or aim for a simultaneous ED app if it’s your top, top choice. If you’re ready to make a binding commitment, go all in with ED, and you may see your fervor rewarded if the higher chance for acceptance pays off. And if you’re on the fence about committing to a single school, consider the data one more time. You may realize that you love the college enough that significantly raising your chance of admission is worth potentially foregoing every other option you have.

Those are Cardinal Education’s reasons for applying EA/ED. For more on how to maximize your chances for entering a top college, check out our How To Write series, or our lists of essay mistakes you should avoid.