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Countdown to college: Early admissions trends for the Class of 2024

By Lee Shulman Bierer on

Published in Education News

With Class of 2024 results coming in for the early admissions round at top colleges and universities around the country, here is what we've learned thus far.


Unlike past years that saw big gains in everyone's early numbers, this year was more of a mixed bag. Brown saw its number of Early Decision applicants grow by 8 percent, on top of a 21 percent increase in ED last year. Cornell saw its pool grow by 7.4 percent, and a news release from the university notes that the number of ED applicants has grown by 90 percent over the last decade.

Harvard saw its pool decrease by nearly 8 percent from last year's 6,958 early applicants. The last time Harvard had a decrease was in the fall of 2013. Duke's ED pool decreased by 552 students (11.4 percent) from last year. Dartmouth's ED pool decreased by 16 percent to 2,069. Penn saw its ED applicant pool drop by 9 percent from the record level reached last fall.

Admissions deans cite natural disasters, school shootings, global economic uncertainty, teacher strikes and demographic trends as possible explanations for declining early pools. It could also be that savvy students are being more strategic in how they use their early option, aiming for a surer bet rather than going for a long shot.


Diversity of background continues to be a key priority in the selection process. Schools are working to build more diversity into their applicant pools through targeted outreach and partnerships with organizations such as Questbridge. Several schools mentioned that greater numbers of low-income and first-generation students among those offered admission.

Cornell and Penn are schools that went big for legacy admits, with 22 percent and 24 percent of the ED admits, respectively, being the children of alumni.

Many schools with binding early decision programs will admit 45 percent or more of their incoming class through the early process. Doing so ensures that they can lock in a solid foundation for their incoming class and reduce yield volatility.

Based on publicly reported data, the toughest early admission pool this year belonged to MIT, where 9,291 students applied for early admission and 687 (7 percent) were offered admission.

Remember that for the vast majority of top schools (MIT being the exception), the rate of admission in the early round will be significantly higher than the rate for regular applicants. Duke, for instance, admitted 20 percent of its early applicants. Last year it admitted only 5.7 percent of its regular decision applicants.


Brown admitted 800 students this December, corresponding to roughly 45 percent of its incoming class. The admitted group represents 17.5 percent of its 4,562 Early Decision applicants, making this the most competitive ED process the school has ever experienced. Logan Powell, Brown's dean of admissions, cites the Brown Promise, a new initiative that replaces all loans in Brown financial aid packages, as having a major impact on the size and composition of the early pool. Some 62 percent of those admitted to Brown in early decision applied for financial aid, up from 50 percent two years ago. Brown continues to push to diversify its student body, which is evident in the 5 percent increase in the number of first-gen students in the ED admit group.


Cornell's ED admission rate increased for the first time in four years. The university received 6,615 ED applications and admitted 23.8 percent - a 1.2 percent increase over last year. ED admits will comprise an estimated 49 percent of the Class of 2024. Interestingly, the number of women admitted decreased by 4 percent to 51.4 percent. It's hard to tell what to make of this statistic, other than perhaps Cornell was concerned that it might be approaching a tipping point with respect to gender balance.

Dartmouth offered admission to 547 ED applicants, for an admit rate of 26 percent. The early group includes record percentages of public high school students (54 percent), first-generation students (15 percent), foreign citizens (12 percent) and students of color (35 percent). Children of Dartmouth alumni represent 15 percent of accepted students and recruited athletes make up 25 percent.

At Duke, 887 students were admitted from a pool of 4,300 ED applicants. With a drop in early applicants from last year, Duke's early acceptance rate increased to 21 percent. These students will comprise 51 percent of the Class of 2024. Students of color comprise 46 percent of those admitted, and 6 percent are international students.

Harvard saw its early action pool decrease (by 7.7 percent) for the first time since 2013. In all, 895 of 6,424 early applicants were offered early admission. The 13.9 percent acceptance rate represents a 0.5 percent increase from last year.

Penn admitted 19.7 percent of ED applicants - an increase over last year after nearly a decade of declining ED acceptance rates. Of the admits who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, 52 percent identify as students of a minority group and 54 percent are female. Some 10 percent of admits are first-generation college students, and 24 percent had a parent or grandparent who attended Penn.

Princeton University has offered admission to 791 students from its early pool. (Princeton coyly refrains from telling us how many students applied, suggesting it saw a smaller pool.) Of those admitted, 48 percent are students of color, 16 percent are from low income backgrounds, 13 percent are first-generation college students, and 11 percent are international students.

Yale's early application number decreased to 5,777, down 4 percent from last year's record-setting pool of 6,020 students.

There are crickets from Stanford on the details of its early applicant pool. The school recently announced that it would stop releasing admissions data until after the end of the admissions cycle in order to reduce the "outsized emphasis placed on the admit rates at U.S. colleges and universities." Stanford did just release its overall admissions data for the Class of 2023. Its admit rate fell to a record-low 4.34 percent. Out of a record-high 47,498 applicants to Stanford's Class of 2023, just 2,062 were offered admission.

Stay tuned for more updates as they become available.

Lee Shulman Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. Visit her website College Admissions Strategies.

Visit The Charlotte Observer at www.charlotteobserver.com

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