In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Princeton University opted to forego offering students the chance to apply Early Action this fall. Instead, they offered students only the opportunity to apply Regular Decision on January 1st. The announcement, made just a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, read, “The University will move to one application deadline of Jan. 1, 2021 for this first-year admission cycle. All applicants will apply using either the Coalition Application or Common Application through the Regular Decision process and will receive decisions on their applications by April 1, 2021.” These months later, after the vast majority of elite universities saw applications skyrocket in the Early Action / Early Decision round, many attributed the increases to Princeton’s move. Their logic? The students who otherwise would have applied to Princeton Early Action spread out at the other highly selective universities. So is it true?
Yes and no. Of course students who would have otherwise applied Early Action to Princeton didn’t end up applying to Hofstra University. Sorry, Hofstra. Rather, the vast majority likely applied to other elite universities in the Early round. So, yes, this would lead to increased applications at other highly selective universities, including the seven other Ivy League institutions. But, no, the spreading out of these applicants does not alone account for the application surges. After all, last year, 4,998 students applied Early Action to Princeton’s Class of 2024. The year before? 5,335 students applied EA to the Class of 2023. The year before? An all-time record of 5,402 EA applicants to Princeton’s Class of 2022. But, year-over-year, applications were up by a margin of 3,662 at Harvard University alone in the Early Action round. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Early Action applications rose by a margin of 5,745 year-over-year. And these are just two of our nation’s elite universities.
The cancelation of Early Action at Princeton thus did not — alone — account for surging applications this fall at our nation’s elite universities. So what accounts for the trend? Well, we’ve suggested that one should look no further than the fact that students stuck at home with their parents. They had the time. There were few distractions. They couldn’t procrastinate. And so they applied Early in waves to our nation’s elite universities in a way that students never had in our pre-pandemic world.
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