Gaining an Advantage: Unveiling Early Decision Data

June 22, 2024

Visiting colleges with your teenager can be both exhilarating and overwhelming. Each campus has its own unique vibe, and understanding the admissions process is crucial in making an informed decision. Recently, my son and I visited an elite liberal arts college in New England. While we generally enjoyed our visit, one part of the admissions information session left me with a lot of questions.

During the session, a concerned father asked about the pressures on students to apply Early Decision (ED). He mentioned hearing that some other colleges admit a large portion of their class through Early Decision, making it more challenging for students to gain admission via Regular Decision. He wanted to know how many Early Decision applicants and admits this particular college had last year.

The Admissions Counselor’s response was disappointing: “We don’t and will not make those numbers public.”

My first thought was, “That can’t be true.” Then I wondered, “Why would she hide the truth?” As someone familiar with the admissions process, I knew where to look for these statistics. But I worried that others in the audience might leave without this crucial information.

If you’re a parent of a college-bound teenager, it’s important to know how to find detailed admissions data. Here’s a helpful tip: search for the college’s “Common Data Set.” This report is a goldmine of information, providing an unvarnished view into a college’s admissions and financial aid statistics.

What is the Common Data Set?

The Common Data Set (CDS) is a standardized report used by colleges and universities to provide detailed information about their institution. It includes data on admissions, enrollment, academic offerings, student life, annual expenses, financial aid, and more. For prospective students and their families, it’s an invaluable resource for making informed decisions.

How to Use the Common Data Set

Search for the College’s Common Data Set:

Simply type “[College Name] Common Data Set” into your preferred search engine. Most colleges publish this information on their institutional research or admissions webpage.

Scroll to the Admissions Section:

Look for sections labeled “Admissions” or “First-Time, First-Year (Freshman) Admission.” Here, you’ll find statistics on the number of applicants, admits, and enrolled students.

Find Early Decision Data:

The CDS includes specific data on Early Decision applicants and admits. This will help you understand how many students are admitted through Early Decision compared to Regular Decision.

Analyze the Data:

Use this information to assess the college’s admissions landscape. For example, if a significant portion of the class is admitted through Early Decision, it may influence your decision on whether to encourage your child to apply Early Decision. But please be careful, there are some downsides to Early Decision, too.

Why This Information Matters

Understanding Early Decision numbers (as well as other admissions data points) can help you and your teenager make strategic choices during the application process. Early Decision can sometimes offer a much greater chance for admission, but it also comes with the commitment to attend if accepted. Knowing the proportion of students admitted through ED helps gauge whether this path might be beneficial.

Final Thoughts

The college admissions process can be opaque and stressful, but being informed can make a significant difference. By using resources like the Common Data Set, you can gain transparency and make better decisions. Encourage your teenager to research and gather as much information as possible, so they feel confident and prepared in their college search.

P.S. The admit rate for Early Decision applicants at the college we visited was more that  3 Times Higher than the Regular Decision admit rate.

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