2 years ago
Admissions Advice

How reliable are early action acceptance rates?

I know a good portion of early applicant are recruited athletes or students of that kind, which might make the statistics higher than they actually are. I want to apply to Stanford early action, and according to Google, the acceptance rate for early applicants is around 9.2%, which is significantly better than the regular decision acceptance rate. Are these data accurate, or should I disregard the data since there is a confounding variable?


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Accepted Answer
2 years ago[edited]

Hi @bleh,

Thanks for asking this question. This is one of the most misunderstood problems of applying to Top single choice restricted early action programs. Intuitively it makes sense to apply SCREA to Stanford, Harvard, Yale and Princeton because the acceptance rates are about 2.5X what the overall admit rate is (e.g 9.2% vs 3.95% for Stanford, 7.47% vs 3.19% for Harvard etc). In reality they are not.

There are 7 distinct applicants in the SCREA pool which are the following:

1. Recruited Athletes (A) D1 athletes vetted by the college coaching staff

2. Legacies (L) children of parents who attended the school

3. Development Candidates (D) children of families who have a record of donations

4. "Fac Brats" (C) Children of faculty which includes instructors, professors and admin

5. VIPs - Child actors, musicians, Nobel prize winners, (think Malala Yousafzai)

6. QB -Questbridge match recipients - high achieving low income first gen students

7. Everyone else - Which includes the brightest of the bright and those who feel entitled to buy a lottery ticket for $70-90 to "shoot their shot".

Lets zoom and drill down on Stanford. For the class of 2025, they admitted 2190 of which approx 900 were admitted SCREA or 41%. I'm keeping your 9.2% for the time being just as a place holder since, SCREA info trickles out with a 2-3 year lag.

Lets figure out how many people are in these 7 groups out of the 2190. According to public information, Stanford enrolls about 16.2% legacies, 12% athletes, 1.5% development, 1% fac brats, and 4% are Questbridge students. So out of the 2190 admitted class, 355 were legacies, 263 were recruited athletes, 32 development, 22 fac brats and 90 Questbridge, and I'd say 5 were like VIP celebs like Eileen Gu (Olympian gold medalist). So that totals 767 out 2190 which is 35% of the admit class.

The tricky thing is to figure out the exact percentage of this 1-6 group that applied and got admitted SCREA. Conservatively I'm going to say 2/3rds on the low side and 7/8ths on the high side. So that's a range of 511 and 671. What this means is that if you are not part of groups 1-6, then your real SCREA acceptance rate between (900-511)/9775 and (900-671)/9775 which is a range of 3.98% and 2.34%. And compared to the overall admit rate of 3.95%, that's not a bump of 2.5X anymore. That's either a 1X rate or a 0.6X rate.

So the big take away is the following: applying early is only useful to the most compelling high school students that would get into Stanford regardless of when they apply.

I wouldn't recommend anyone to apply SCREA to Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, Yale unless they have super impressive academic narratives including solid evidence of intellectual vitality and amazing ECs that show evidence of unique and genuine talent. Of course it goes without saying that you need near perfect grades, test scores and strong course rigor, the very best recommendation and essays.

If there is any sort of GAP or missing criteria in your application, it's always better to use the extra time and apply RD. What I mean by this is fix your lower test scores, imperfect essays, non-spikey ECs, curate better recommendations, submit better graded papers, and show more leadership roles either in your varsity sports, school clubs and leadership groups, or community service.

The best way to think of SCREA is booking a flight First Class on an airplane. It's not fair that one might come from an over-represented demographic, or be middle class or not have great college preparation etc etc, but some people just get to board the plane before everyone else and get a better seat, better treatment and better benefits.

As long as the best colleges in the US are private, they can create their own admissions rules and standards and that will never change. So your best bet is to be armed with the best information possible and make informed choices on where you want to apply and when you want to apply.

Good luck.

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