Winter acceptance rates at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are higher than in the spring - here's why it seems easier to get in when you apply early

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Students lay out in their bathing suits on the Quad, on the campus of Harvard University on January 27, 2015 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Boston, and much of the Northeast, is being hit with heavy snow from Winter Storm Juno. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images It's nearly three times easier to get into Harvard if you apply early.

  • Early admissions decisions in the Ivy League are announced in December.
  • The acceptance rate is far higher during the early admissions round in the winter than the regular decision announcements in the spring.
  • College admissions offices say this is due to the strength of the applicant pool rather than an ease of acceptance.


There's a stark disconnect between early and regular admission rates.

The early admission rates at Ivy League schools for the class of 2022 ranged from a 24.9% acceptance rate at Dartmouth College to a 14.5% acceptance rate at Harvard University.

class of 2022 early admission rates Andy Kiersz / Business Insider Cornell and Columbia have not reported their early decision admit rates.

By spring standards, that is downright lax.

The most recent regular decision data available is from the spring of 2017 for the class of 2021. Admit rates ranged from Cornell University's 12.5% to Harvard's 5.2%.

Here's the ranking of Ivy League schools by their Class of 2021 selectivity:

8. Cornell University - 12.5%

7. Dartmouth College - 10.4%

6. University of Pennsylvania - 9.2%

5. Brown University - 8.3%

4. Yale University - 6.9%

3. Princeton University - 6.1%

2. Columbia University - 5.8%

1. Harvard University - 5.2%

But those numbers don't tell the whole story: The spring rates, when taken alone, are actually more competitive than that. In the spring, schools release their total admission rates as the weighted average of the two together - early admission and regular admission.

So what's the deal?

Ivy admissions offices emphasize that the reason it appears easier to get into schools during early admissions is more a factor of the strength of the applicant pool than an ease of acceptance.

In other words, students who apply early to Harvard are probably better qualified compared to the larger applicant pool, and more confident in their chances of being admitted.

"We have continued to stress to applicants, their families, and their guidance counselors that there is no advantage in applying early to Harvard," William R. Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, said in a release from Harvard last December. "The reason students are admitted - early or during the Regular Action process - is that their academic, extracurricular, and personal strengths are extraordinary."

Harvard releases a survey on incoming freshman every year that provides details on the makeup of the class. For the Class of 2019 - the most recent survey conducted- the survey indicated that students admitted early had higher SAT scores than regular admissions students, on average. Early admissions students scored an average of 2239, compared to 2217 for regular admissions.

Still, schools certainly find early applicants attractive as they can lock in a higher "yield" - the number of admitted students who decide to go to the college. Early decision is binding, while early action means that students are only allowed to apply to one school early (though they can apply regular decision to other schools) and then make their final choice in the spring.

Some higher education experts feel that there is an advantage to applying early, and that its practice is troubling, as it disproportionately helps wealthier students. The early admissions process is not possible for students who need to weigh the different financial aid packages they are offered before making a decision.

Early admissions "significantly disadvantages students from low-income and middle-income families, who are already underrepresented at such schools," columnist Frank Bruni wrote in The New York Times.

Still, it doesn't seem that the early admissions process is going anywhere soon. The Ivy League had a record number of early applications this year, and, more broadly, about 450 American colleges accept early applicants.

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