This year, early admissions anxiety didn’t stop with students.
Admissions officers in the Ivy League watched as many universities, including Penn, saw some slowing in their previously nosediving early admission rates, as both Harvard and Princeton universities reinstated early action programs for the first time since 2006.
In mid-December, Penn reported that, despite receiving slightly fewer early decision applications than last year, its acceptance rate for the early round also decreased slightly, going from 26.1 percent for the Class of 2015 to 25.4 percent for the Class of 2016.
In comparison to Penn, Harvard posted an early acceptance rate of 18.2 percent for its single-choice early action program, while Princeton admitted 21.1 percent of its applicants. When both schools last offered early admission programs in 2006, Harvard and Princeton admitted 21.5 and 26 percent of applicants in the early round, respectively.
The numbers this year made Harvard the second most selective of the Ivy League’s early programs, followed by Brown and Columbia universities. Penn was the second least selective school in the Ivies.
Yale University — which, like Harvard and Princeton, has single-choice early action instead of binding early decision — again posted the most selective early admissions rate of the Ivies at 15.7 percent.
Like Penn, Yale’s applicant pool decreased for the Class of 2016, though by a more dramatic total of 16 percent.
Stanford and Columbia universities also experienced decreases in their applicant pools.
Looking back, Michele Hernandez, president of Hernandez College Consulting, said this was likely in response to Harvard and Princeton’s reinstatement of early action.
“We knew this was going to happen — that some schools would be flat or down a little because the early round was spread over more schools,” Hernandez said.
Other peer schools, however, continued strong upward trends in admissions numbers.
The University of Chicago, as well as Duke and Northwestern universities, all saw their applicant pools increase substantially and their acceptance rates drop accordingly.
Steven Goodman — a 1989 Graduate School of Education graduate and Top Colleges educational consultant — said such increases made sense.
“When the Ivies are so selective,” he said, “it’s not irrational to look at close non-Ivies like Duke and Northwestern.”
At the same time, Dean of Admissions Eric Furda discouraged reading too much into the numbers.
“I think that we have to be cautious — even though there is a level of importance to these numbers — that we put them in proper perspective,” he said.
By way of example, Furda noted that Penn’s slight drop in its early decision acceptance rate was an attempt to gain “more flexibility in our regular decision pool.”
Hernandez predicted a “more humane” regular decision round at many schools because some who were accepted through early action at Harvard and Princeton will no longer be in many peer schools’ applicant pools.
On the whole, Furda said this year’s early numbers “really affect the overall direction of what our [regular decision] numbers are going to be, either admit rate or yield. As we’re admitting about 47 percent of the class in early decision … it does set the direction and the foundation for regular decision.”