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At some colleges, early applicants are accepted at significantly higher rates than those who apply by the regular decision deadline.
Undergraduate admissions experts say one reason for this phenomenon is that students who feel confident in their admissions chances are more likely to apply early than their peers who feel less sure of themselves. In addition, student-athletes recruited by a college are highly likely to apply to that school early, and these applicants tend to have a major leg up in the college admissions process.
Experts add that some, but not all, colleges that offer early admissions programs are more receptive to early applicants. A preference for early applicants is common at schools that offer binding early decision programs, where applicants commit to attend if they are accepted. However, at colleges with nonbinding early action programs, where admitted applicants aren’t required to make the commitment to enroll, there may not be a significant advantage to applying early, experts say.
[ See: 10 Things to Know About College Early Admissions Programs.]
Nevertheless, an analysis of fall 2018 admissions statistics from the 285 ranked colleges that reported both early and regular acceptance rates to U.S. News in an annual survey reveals where early applicants had the biggest advantage. Among the 10 colleges where average early decision or action acceptance rates exceeded regular acceptance rates by the greatest margin, the average difference was 57.6 percentage points.
On the flip side, at some colleges the difference between early and regular admissions odds was minimal. For example, at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida, the average early action acceptance rate for fall 2018 was 97.3%, and the regular decision acceptance rate was only 2.3 percentage points lower, at 95%.
[ Read: How to Know if You Should Apply to College Early.]
Per U.S. News data, early applicants in fall 2018 had the greatest advantage at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. The school admitted an average of 97% of early applicants, compared with just a quarter of regular decision applicants.
Below is a list of the 10 ranked colleges where early applicants had the greatest admissions advantage compared with regular applicants in fall 2018. Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be numerically ranked, were not considered for this report.
Type of early admissions program
Percent of early applicants admitted early*
Percent of regular applicants admitted
Difference in acceptance rates (percentage points)
U.S. News rank and category
*Some colleges defer some applicants to the regular admissions pool, where they have an additional chance of admittance, so the percentage of early applicants who are eventually accepted may be higher.
Don’t see your school in the top 10? Access the U.S. News College Compass to find early admissions statistics, complete rankings and much more. Sign up for the U.S. News Extra Help: College Admissions free email newsletter to receive expert advice twice a month.
U.S. News surveyed more than 1,900 colleges and universities for our 2019 survey of undergraduate programs. Schools self-reported myriad data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News’ data the most accurate and detailed collection of college facts and figures of its kind. While U.S. News uses much of this survey data to rank schools for our annual Best Colleges rankings, the data can also be useful when examined on a smaller scale. U.S. News will now produce lists of data, separate from the overall rankings, meant to provide students and parents a means to find which schools excel, or have room to grow, in specific areas that are important to them. While the data come from the schools themselves, these lists are not related to, and have no influence over, U.S. News’ rankings of Best Colleges, Best Graduate Schools or Best Online Programs. The acceptance rate data above is correct as of Oct. 15, 2019.