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I had a conversation with a top education counselor in Delhi. He sent 11 kids to Ivy schools last year.
Me: I am thinking of applying early. I am conf....
C: DON'T apply early.
Me:Is there a reason?
C: Yes. ED is far more competitive and far more difficult than regular decision.
Me: That can't be right. Colleges clearly mention that enthusiasm for the college is considered a plus. Moreover, colleges like Cornell fill 1/3rd of their entire class with ED applicants.
C: Yes, but not only is that selected pool of applicants more competitive but it is also mostly filled with domestic students.
Me: How can you be so sure?
C: I have talked with many adcom members. Only last year Penn came here for a intro seminar. Their representative, and many other colleges' representatives have told me about this. That is why I encourage all my students to apply RD. Last year 15 students of mine applied ED despite my disapproval and got rejected. These were good applicants who had good chances in RD.
Me: So are the colleges lying to us, when they say ED admissions if not easier are equal to RD admissions?
C: Colleges want the best out of every country. Say Cornell takes 15 students from India. Now, if you apply ED they might reject/defer you unless you are exceptional since they want to have the full view of the entire applicant pool from India before they make any decision. They have very few seats and must make their decisions very carefully. That is why ED is not recommended for international students insofar as it is actually disadvantageous.