Early-action applications declining across U.S. colleges

New data from Naviance, a college- and career-readiness technology platform, show an overall downturn in the number of early-action and early-decision applications received by colleges and universities this year. The national picture stands in sharp contrast to the record levels of early applicants reported recently by Ivy League schools and other top-tier institutions, reinforcing an emerging landscape “in which colleges that are wealthy and that serve many wealthy students are doing well. And other colleges are not,” Inside Higher Ed writes.

Related: Common App sounds alarm about dip in first-gen, low-income applicants >  

According to Naviance’s parent company Hobsons, the number of students submitting (binding) early-decision applications and (non-binding) early-action applications fell by 4.6 percent and 5.7 percent, respectively, this year. Cutting the data by institution size, Hobsons found that institutions with very small enrollments of 2,000 or fewer students have seen a 29 percent average drop-off in early-action applications; on the other end of the spectrum, very large institutions with more than 20,000 students have seen a 5 percent increase. 

Early-decision not an option for many lower-income students

The data also underscore the persistent underrepresentation of Black and Latinx students among early applicants. Black students are expected to make up 14 percent of this year’s high school graduating class; however, they accounted for just 7 percent of this year’s early applicants. Similarly, 6 percent of early applicants were Latinx, compared with 25 percent of high school seniors. 

Those gaps, Hobsons notes, are consistent with past years’ data and likely reflect Black and Latinx students’ need to compare financial aid packages. Binding early-decision processes, in particular, tend to appeal most to students who can make enrollment decisions without maximizing aid dollars. 

Related: New book gives inside look at the college admissions process—and how it favors the privileged >

Hobsons also says the pandemic’s ongoing uncertainty also may have dampened students’ enthusiasm for early application deadlines. The company’s surveys indicate that students “are behind in all of their activities,” said marketing director Melissa Meyer.

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