The Economics of Early Decision

It would seem logical that during an economic downturn, early admission applications would drop -- that students would want to cast a wider net to capture the best financial aid package. However, the opposite of that has been true for highly selective colleges like Northwestern, Brown, Duke, Cornell, Columbia, Johns Hopkins and Dartmouth. Each of these universities received more early decision applications in 2009 than in 2008 [source: Steinberg]. Despite the economic climate, students continue to fear rejection from their dream school. And they think early decision will prevent the dreaded small envelop in the mail.

In many cases, that might be true. For example, at Brown University, the acceptance rate of early decision candidates is 21 percent, while regular decision is 11 percent [source: Admission Consultants]. But the reason for these admissions rates may not be early decision candidacy. Early decision candidates tend to be top students, so they may have been accepted to the school even if their application wasn't early decision.

While early decision acceptance rates might be higher at some colleges, the opposite is true for others. For example, Cornell received 136 more early decision applications this year than last year, but it accepted 103 fewer students. Johns Hopkins and Brown also received more early decision applications but accepted fewer students [Source: Steinberg].

No doubt, a number of factors contributed to these admissions statistics, and the quality of applicant pools always varies from school to school. However, one factor that may have affected these numbers is the effort by many top schools to increase the diversity of their student body. Students who apply early decision generally come from more economically privileged backgrounds than most regular decision candidates [source: Kaplan].

Many schools are trying to assemble diverse student populations, and becoming more flexible in regular decision admissions helps them to increase diversity. For example, Harvard and the University of Virginia have eliminated early decision programs in response to criticism that such admissions policies pander to the elite [source: Steinberg]. Yale has been criticized for keeping early decision in place because many view it as undercutting efforts to create diversity within the Ivy League [source: JBHE].

Now that you now what factors go into early decision, you can decide which admission program will put you in the best spot for a financial aid package that will suit your budget.