What is the advantage of applying through the early decision college application process? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Jon Levin, Professor of Economics at Stanford University, on Quora:

At most selective schools, there is a substantial advantage in the chance of being admitted if you are an early decision applicant. According to these numbers, Brown recently admitted 18.5% of early applicants and 7.6% of regular applicants. Cornell's numbers were 28% and 12.5% and Dartmouth's were 28% and 9.9%.

Those raw numbers are likely a bit misleading because at these schools the early applicant pool is probably stronger in terms of academic preparation and test scores. But even if you control for high-school grades, test scores, etc. there is a pretty big admissions advantage. (This paper that I wrote with Chris Avery at Harvard has some old numbers.)

There are a couple of reasons why schools favor early applicants. It helps admissions offices manage the size and composition of their classes. When you admit a student early, you know the student will be on campus next September (and for the few schools that run Early Action without a student commitment, you can be pretty certain too because the yield rate on early admits is very high). In regular admissions, you don't know for sure and that makes class size and composition more random. At some schools, it's not easy to deal with an extra-large class, which means using a waitlist and that has drawbacks and prolongs the admissions process.

Another reason schools like early applicants is that they tend to be really enthusiastic about the school--after all, they applied early! It makes sense that schools would want to admit students who are really excited about the school.

There are two main drawbacks of early admissions. It forces high school students to make decisions early in their senior year before they know all their options, and creates an incentive to be strategic because it's costly to "waste" your early application on a school where you're unlikely to get accepted. It also works to the advantage of more privileged students who are better informed about the admissions process and who don't have to worry as much about financial aid offers. These are drawbacks of the system as a whole, however, and don't negate the incentive for any individual student to apply early.

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