3 Reasons Colleges Accept More Early Applicants

It is hard to say “no” to students who say “I love you.”

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The numbers are clear: Colleges typically accept a higher percentage of the students who apply early.

[Read about the controversies surrounding college admissions advantages for early applicants.]

But admissions officers say that doesn't mean early applicants have an easier time at all schools. Some of the reasons for the higher admissions rates could actually make things harder for some early applicants.

[See a list of 50 colleges with high early admissions rates.]

Here are three of the main reasons colleges say early applicants have better admissions odds:

1. Athletics: Many schools' early admission rates appear high because coaches often push recruited athletes, who are pre-screened, through early to ensure commitments. Yale University, for example, accepted 730, or 13.9 percent, of its 5,261 early applications last year. Meanwhile, Yale says it accepted just 1,309, or 5.6 percent, of the 23,273 regular candidates. But Yale spokesman Tom Conroy noted that many of the early applicants were recruited athletes. Yale has analyzed the different applicant groups and concluded that early applicants face the same academic standards as regular applicants. "We do not have a statistically significant preference for early applicants," Conroy says.

[Check out our guide for applying to college.]

2. Better students: The College of Idaho, a private liberal arts college in Caldwell, Idaho, admitted 97 percent of its early action applicants in 2009 because early applicants tend to have better grades and test scores, says Admissions Director Brian A. Bava. "A weaker pool (relative to those who apply earlier on) may partly explain why the admission percentage dips" to about 60 percent for the regular applicants, he says.

3. Commitment: Some colleges give preferences to applicants who show they really want to attend that school. Since students who apply through "Early Decision" programs are indicating the college is their first choice and that they will attend, that "demonstrated interest" can give a decisive edge to marginal applicants at some colleges. "We won't pick anybody we don't believe won't be successful," says St. Lawrence University Admissions Director Alison Almasian. But an early applicant who shows a commitment to St. Lawrence might very well receive happier news than a similarly qualified student who applies in the regular pool and doesn't show a special love for the campus. "A sense of match takes on greater importance" at small, remote campuses like St. Lawrence, Almasian says. Leon Washington, dean of admission at Lehigh University in West Bethlehem, Pa., adds: "It is really difficult to say 'no' to outstanding young men and women who say, 'I love you. I want to be there.'"

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