Written By:


Daniel Chao
Princeton '19


How to decide which college to apply early

There are many schools that allow you to apply early, usually around November 1st. I highly highly recommend that you take this opportunity. Do your best to get started on this app as early as possible (I recommend around mid-August). You’ll thank yourself later for applying early because: 1. You’re accepted to a school in December and you don’t have to worry about any other apps, and / or 2. You’ve done a significant amount of work applying early, and that in turn takes off a big chunk of work for all the other regular deadlines.

When you apply to a school early, you will want to apply to your first choice school. Don’t worry so much about application numbers or what your peers are doing. This is your school and you are deciding where you are going to spend your next four years, no one else.

That said, here are some of the different types early applications that schools offer:

Restrictive Early Action (REA):

With Restrictive Early Action, you can only apply to one school early. If you get in, that’s great, but you still have the freedom to apply to more schools if you choose. This is basically only offered at the top-tier schools: Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, and Yale. Applying to these schools early does not give you an advantage in any way, shape or form. You’re probably scratching your head or about to close this blog over how ridiculous this sounds, but here’s why:

  1. Yes, the rate of acceptance at these schools is significantly higher early (roughly 22% at Princeton) than regular (about 3% at Princeton). But there’s a lot of things that are not considered when looking at these numbers.
  2. Recruited athletes: Each of these schools can basically offer a guaranteed (or likely, as they put it) spot to a certain number of athletes in each sport. Pretty much all of them will be applying early to take their recruited athlete spot. If each sport recruits 5 (conservative estimate) athletes a year and the school offers around 25 sports, then that’s 125 kids getting in every year. At Princeton, in a pool of 3,000 applicants and 600 accepted, that’s a significant portion of the applicants that are accepted, but not so much of the total pool. Thus the rate for non-athletes is closer to the actual rate.
  3. I’m not talking about the kids who only have one sibling or parent that went to the school. I’m talking about those incredibly powerful families that have ties with the school that date back to centuries ago and the filthy rich and powerful who have whole buildings named after them. These kids are usually smarter than your average student because their whole family was educated at these top schools, so they at least deserve a spot with the class. It’s the money and history that these schools value that place these applicants over the top.
  4. The people who apply to these schools early are generally stronger applicants than those who apply regular. Of course there are several exceptions, but those who apply early to a school often focus on that one application, whereas for regular they focus on anywhere from 5-15 other applications. This means that their early application may have a more thought-out and polished essay(s), or they know that they are best fit for that school and thus are more likely to be seen as a perfect match in the eyes of admissions officers. They may not necessarily be applying just because of the name, but because it’s the right school for them.
  5. How often have you heard someone say, “Just apply to Harvard! There’s a small chance you’ll get in.” While you certainly do have a greater chance of getting in if you apply vs. not applying, a student with less-than-adequate grades, extracurricular activates, and such is almost never going to get in over a kid who does have all the key components. The regular applicant pool at all these schools (Harvard especially) is inflated with the kids who say “LOL YOLO I’ll submit a Harvard app and see what happens.” These kids almost never apply early because with that mindset they are unlikely going to put in the extra work to get their app in early.
  6. If you ask an admissions officer at basically any one of these universities (HYPS) about the advantages of applying early, they’ll tell you that there isn’t any. If you don’t trust them here, how are you going to trust them with deciding whether you will attend their school for the next four years?

Early Action (EA)

Unlike REA, schools that allow you to apply early action will also allow to apply to as many other schools early as you wish. Just be careful to not spread your workload out too thin. Some schools that fall under this category include The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, and University of Chicago.

If you look at the numbers, there is really no huge advantage for applying to these schools early, other than of course, if it’s your first choice and you get in, you don’t have to worry about applying anywhere else. This is due to the fact that these schools don’t have as much of a guaranteed spot for recruited athletes (or at least many of them), and they aren’t as well known for the insane legacy and rich donor ties.

Early Decision (ED)

The majority of schools that offer early submission fall under the ED category. If accepted to these schools, you commit to attending that school and will have to withdraw any apps you submitted elsewhere. Schools that offer ED include Columbia, Northwestern, Cornell, Dartmouth, Washington University in St. Louis, and University of Pennsylvania.

Applying ED almost always entails an application advantage. This is because if you are a strong applicant, they will want you to attend their school not a “better” university. But, be sure that if you apply here, it is your first choice: if you change your mind and then get accepted, you’re stuck with that school. Also, having you commit to their school improves their yield rate, and thus their rank on USNWR for National Universities.

The reason HYPS don’t offer ED is because they are pretty much everyone’s first choice, their yield rate is so high, and they know that if you get in, you’re more than likely to attend. This is not so much the case at many ED schools.


Apply to a school because it is a good fit for you, not because it’s called Harvard, but because they offer everything you could want in a college. If you need help finding the right fit or have questions about this process, feel free to contact me or any one of the ADME team, and we will be more than happy to help you out. After all, we have recently finished the process ourselves and are eager to pass down our experience.