Early Applications to Elite Universities Are Up Big

At this time in December, we’ve typically reported on more Early Action / Early Decision application figures at our nation’s highly selective universities. Thus far this year, we’ve only reported on Early application figures at Duke University, the University of Virginia, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Boston College. And why? Because, well, 2020 is a year like no other. But you didn’t need us to tell you that. You haven’t left your home since early March except to drop your child off at a test center to sit for the SAT. We kid, we kid. In any case, many highly selective universities haven’t yet reported Early application figures. Yet our sources have indicated to us that there is a clear trend.

We Anticipate an Over 36% Increase in ED Applications at Cornell

Ivy Coach’s crystal ball forecasts soaring Early Decision / Early Action applications at our nation’s elite universities (photo credit: Justin Ennis).

When press releases come out in the days and weeks to come on Early Action / Early Decision admissions statistics, you’re going to see that Early applications are up dramatically at the vast majority of our nation’s highly selective universities. As an example, last year at Cornell University, 6,616 students applied under the school’s binding Early Decision policy to the Class of 2024. This year, we expect the school will soon release to the public that over 9,000 students applied to the Class of 2025 through Early Decision. By our arithmetic, that’s over 36% increase in Early applications. Yes, 36%!

The Squeakers Are to Blame for Skyrocketing Early Applications at Our Nation’s Elite Universities

And why do we anticipate — with the help of Ivy Coach’s famously accurate crystal ball — such increases in the Early pools at our nation’s highly selective universities? Because of what we’ll call the overshoting squeakers. Yes, the squeakers: students who had no business applying to the highly selective university to which they applied Early this year but thought they might be able to squeak in without test scores because these schools went test-optional. And while there are squeakers every year, we anticipate that a record number of foolish squeakers applied this Early cycle thinking they just might have a chance. But, rest assured, these squeakers do not have a chance. So, oh qualified students and their parents, don’t be so worried about soaring application figures and declining admission rates this year. More applications and lower admission rates do not alone correlate with a more competitive cycle. As an extreme example, more C students applying to Harvard do not make the Harvard applicant pool more competitive.

The Squeakers Didn’t Understand Game Theory

You see, these overshooting squeakers misunderstood the words of our esteemed former First Lady Michelle Obama. They seem to have interpreted her words as, “When they go high, we go high…and then we get rejected.” Or perhaps they misinterpreted the game theory research of the late former Princeton professor John Nash. These squeakers thought they’d be the only ones to apply to these schools in spite of their not so impressive credentials. “7 B’s? Maybe Yale will overlook it since there’s a pandemic and all,” they thought. And yet so many of them are soon going to learn that such a plan was foolish. As Professor Nash would argue, they all went after the same girl — and they will end up with nothing to show for it. Instead, they should have gone after a girl who was a reach for them but not an impossible reach. If they played by such rules, well, they’d have something to show for it. Clearly these squeakers didn’t understand basic principles of game theory.


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  • Bill Levitz says:

    According to your numbers that would be a better than 36% increase. Huge!

  • David says:

    how do you know this year’s applicants are more than 9,000? Where do you have this number?

  • R says:

    This is just rude. There is nothing wrong with students trying to shoot their shot at a very prestigious school and trying to take advantage of the current situation. I understand that you are just trying to alleviate the worries of “more academically inclined students” and their parents but there is no need to degrade those who may have not have had the resources to have perfect stats and extracurriculars. Congrats for contributing more to the already dehumanizing college admissions process!

    • Ivy Coach says:

      Quite the contrary. We believe that when unqualified students apply to impossible reach schools in the Early round, they make it immensely more stressful for themselves because not only will they not get in, but they’ll have even more trouble in the Regular round when the odds are so much tougher. Additionally, when unqualified students apply to impossible reach schools, it boosts these schools’ application figures and lowers their admission rates — making it seem like it’s harder to get into. THIS increases stress on students. In our nearly 30 years of helping students earn admission to their dream schools, we know that telling it like it is not only decreases stress but it’s the only right thing to do.

  • Dean Wenick says:

    To put it bluntly, Ivy Coach is telling hopeful applicants that no matter how much your fully grown 5’1″ son wants to play in the NBA, his chances are not good, so maybe he should try a different sport, say, soccer, where a short guy like Maradona can become world famous. Is that “dehumanizing”? Give me a break! And, I think you said, yourself, “R”, exactly what every Ivy League admissions officer already knows: many kids are trying to “take advantage” of a situation. They will be flatly rejected. Why? These overwhelmingly will not be qualified students with regard grades test scores or activities. These are students who merely saw an opportunity that everyone else saw and ran for the opportunity at the same time. Joe Kennedy once said, “When I found out the shoeshine boy was getting the same stock tips I was getting, I knew it was time to get out of the stock market!” And these kids should have gotten out of the idea that a 27 ACT and mostly B’s are the ticket to Penn…or maybe Harvard!

    The California gold rush of 1849 resulted in mostly broke prospectors and very few winners. This is the Ivy League version of the gold rush. Come April 1st, a lot of fool’s gold will be awaiting these applicants on their portals.

  • Azime says:

    I think some applications are expensive for persons that they earn little money.

  • Abdullah says:

    So, after cutting out the “squeakers” in question, will the net admissions rate remain the same? This year is unprecedented and shows how stressed the college system really is.

    • Ivy Coach says:

      No, because also don’t forget about the ~14-20% of students admitted to the Class of 2024 at highly selective universities who took gap years and will fill seats in the Class of 2025.

      • Rebecca says:

        But Ivy Coach, remember that many schools will open the same amount of freshman spots as usual, despite gap year students, because they want to normalize their total enrollment. So they may have a smaller sophomore class, but allow for a bigger freshman class to offset it.

        • Ivy Coach says:

          Hi Rebecca,

          While that’s a good guess, unfortunately, it’s not the case. Many elite universities have already publicly committed to not expanding their class sizes to accommodate gap year students. As an example, at Dartmouth College, as Reilly Olinger reported for The Dartmouth in a piece entitled “Class of ’24 decides on Dartmouth remotely, considers gap years,” “[Vice Provost for Enrollment Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid Lee] Coffin said that the admissions office is trying to determine what will happen in the case that a greater than average number of students from the Class of 2024 choose to take gap years. ‘A typical freshman class would be 1,150 [students], so if people [take a gap year] from ’24 into ’25, we’re not going to add to that class,’ Coffin said.”

          • Rebecca says:

            That article was published back in May…a lot has changed!

          • Ivy Coach says:

            Not really. Since May, the vast majority of elite universities have not been able to erect dorm rooms to accommodate increased class sizes. And for many months, dorms won’t be able to be filled to capacity due to social distancing restrictions. We expect Dartmouth’s class size to be about the same as last year. And we’re not relying on Ivy Coach’s crystal ball in this instance. We’re relying on the word of Dartmouth’s Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid Lee Coffin.

          • Ivy Coach says:


            Ivy Coach’s forecast is proving true. See below from the Duke release on its Class of 2025 Early Decision round. Consistent with what we’ve said, elite universities are not going to be expanding their incoming class sizes and gap year students from the Class of 2024 are absolutely going to be eating up slots in the Class of 2025. Which only makes sense because it’s not like these schools were building dorms en masse during the pandemic.

            “In a letter to colleagues, [Christoph] Guttentag wrote that Duke expects an Early Decision acceptance rate of 16% to 17% this year. This translates to “between 800 and 850” admitted students—“somewhat fewer than normal because of the number of students taking a gap year this year,” Guttentag wrote. For the Class of 2024, 21% of applicants—887 students—were admitted. For the Class of 2023, 18%, or 882 students, were admitted. Guttentag added that the total size of the entering class, including students returning from a gap year, will remain the same as in previous years: between 1720 and 1730 students.”

      • Danielle says:

        Do you have any guesses to what the acceptance rate for Cornell will look like with the gap year students and the increase in early decision applicants? Will test score ranges be lower due to fewer students taking SAT and students not being able to take SAT multiple times to increase scores?

  • L Bello says:

    How will Cornell address gap year students? Any clues?

  • Deepesh Patel says:

    Hi can you tell how many International students applied for ED for the class of 2025

  • L. Carcjohn says:

    What is the situation at Princeton University? They canceled their ED/EA this year. All applicants will have to apply regular decision. They also are not adding extra spots to their Class of 2025 for the gap year enrollees, I believe.

  • Richard says:

    Do you think many students applying this year are qualified in all aspects besides test scores, and would not have applied to these schools if scores were required? This Wall Street Journal article suggests so. Anecdotally, many of my peers applying to top schools earn high grades and are very active in their communities, but do not perform well on standardized tests.

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