High ED Acceptance Rate at Liberal Arts Colleges?

I was looking at the Early Decision acceptance rates for liberal arts colleges such as Middlebury and Grinnell, and some have a 50%+ acceptance rate. Why is this? Is this exclusively because of athlete recruitments? Would it benefit me—a non-athlete?

It’s partially due to athletic recruits, but also to other preferentially treated groups like Posse (30 last year in Midd ED1), Questbridge, legacy, etc.

The only hard data we have is from Harvard, which was forced to release it because of the lawsuit. They only have EA and had always claimed applying EA gave no advantage over applying RD, but when the statisticians crunched the numbers and corrected for just about every factor (race, athletics, EC’s, essay quality, etc.) they concluded that the same applicant applying EA had a 3.5x greater chance of being admitted (I think it was 7% EA vs 2% RD).

Schools like Middlebury have an even greater gap between early and regular admission rates than Harvard, so it is highly likely that Middlebury (and probably Grinnell) gives a substantial advantage to those who apply early.

Thank you for your response. So is it worth it to apply ED even if I’m not a member of one these groups? What would the ED acceptance rate be closer to for an applicant not in these groups (e.g. Middlebury’s was ~45% for ALL ED applicants for 2020, what is the acceptance rate for an applicant not in these groups)?

Thanks for your insight. Is the ED acceptance rate so high at these schools just because of special groups (such as athletic recruitments) or does it benefit all applicants?

If it is absolutely, positively your #1 choice, apply ED. Why would it matter what the ED acceptance rate is if it’s your #1 choice and you can afford to go there based on the NPC?

It may be worth applying ED anyway. D20 applied to a similar school (top ranked small LAC, big ED bump, fills half the incoming class with ED applicants) and she was not a member of any of those groups either. Her test scores and GPA were very competitive for the school and she made a point of connecting with the school (a lot and in very meaningful ways) to the point where she was greeted by name by the admissions people she had been communicating with when she walked into a big open house event. She was admitted ED. It is more about fit. Clear the statistical hurdles and show them how you will contribute to their community in a meaningful way. They may still say no, but they could say yes.

At Harvard, the hiogher early admit rate was not just because of special groups (“hooked students”) but also because they were letting in a higher percentage of un-hooked students in the early rounds, even after correcting for the strength of the applications. I strongly suspect Middlebury and Grinnell give an even bigger advantage than Harvard to un-hooked students who apply ED.

If you are really sure you love one of these schools and can afford to go there, then applying early is definitely an advantage.

If a LAC is your top choice, it appears affordable, and you have no need to compare financial offers from different schools then applying ED is typically an advantage even for unhooked applicants. The benefit to the college is that ED locks in a portion of its upcoming class early in the process. (at some LACs around 50% of the class comes in ED).

I agree with everyone who said if you can afford it and it’s definitely the school for you, apply ED. I also think chances will be even better with this coming admissions cycle.

Grinnell mentioned in their virtual information session that they give an automatic merit award ($10K, I believe) for those accepted in the ED round. They can give additional merit as well and, I believe, can be stacked with need-based aid. Obviously they want people to apply ED!

The specific numbers from the Harvard lawsuit sample are below. The regression analysis found a 4.6x odds ratio advantage for REA, with full controls (includes controls for both hooks and reader ratings of applicant).

Overall Admit Rate
REA: 22.6% accepted
RD: 3.6% accepted

ALDC Hooked Admit Rate
REA: 64.5% accepted
RD: 18.5% accepted

Non-ALDC Hooked Admit Rate
REA: 14.5% accepted
RD: 3.2% accepted

Middlebury and Grinell don’t appear to have as extreme differences in admit as Harvard. A comparison from the most recent published CDS is below (2019-20 for Middlebury, 2016-17 for Grinell). I expect all 3 colleges use their early system differently, including both degree of influence and for which applicants it is most influential. Both Middlebury and Grinell indicate that they consider demonstrated interest, and applying ED is a great way to show interest, including among unhooked kids.

Overall Admit Rate
ED: 44.8% accepted
RD: 12.6% accepted

Overall Admit Rate
ED: 47.4% accepted
RD: 18.9% accepted

@oscar321 , I will say yes, it could be worth it. While a lot of ED acceptances have already been screened so they can go straight to yes (athletic recruits, for example) and others may have a heavy finger on the scale (donors, legacy) and still others will be part of a pool that you are not part of (posse, questbridge), you will have the advantage of being in the first wave of people like you. If you apply RD, they may already have accepted folks “like you”.

I also think that you could have an edge is you are deferred or even if you end up on the WL. Schools want students who want to be there!

The odds may not be significantly better, and ED will not compensate for any deficits in your application, but you’ll have the advantage of being first in line.

Aside from, as

I wouldn’t call QB and Posse “preferentially treated groups”. Both of these groups have gone through a pretty tough selection process before they even get to apply ED. Fewer than 10% of all Posse nominees get to the point where they apply ED to their assorted partner colleges (not to mention the fact that only 10 were selected from each participating high school). The actual acceptance rate of Posse nominees is about 4%.

About 1/3 of all QB applicants are selected as finalists, and they all submit applications to a number of colleges on the list of college partners and about 1/4 of these are accepted ED to one of the colleges on the list. So we’re talking about a 8% or so acceptance rate.

Anyway, my point is that the Posse and QB applicants are not “preferentially treated groups”, but they are going through a separate selection process, which is far more rigorous than anything that is experienced by even RD applicants at most of the super-selective schools.

It is, shall we say, “inaccurate”, to describe students who are actually being accepted ED at a 4% or 8% rate at colleges whose ED acceptance rates are all higher than that as receiving preferential treatment.

Of course, since their “official” acceptance rates are 40%-50% and 25%, this may mess up the averages for the colleges which they end up attending (in one direction or another - many have higher ED acceptance rates than these).

Overall Admit Rate
ED: 44.8% accepted
RD: 12.6% accepted

Overall Admit Rate
ED: 47.4% accepted
RD: 18.9% accepted


These are the published RD rates right, if the percent of class filled by ED is significant, the actual, de-facto RD rate, if you will is lower, maybe much lower.

The numbers are from the CDS. The CDS lists ED applicants and admits, as well as total applicants and admits. The calculation is:

RD admits = Total admits - ED admits
RD applicants = Total applicants - ED applicants
RD admit rate = (Total admits - ED admits) / (Total applicants - ED applicants)

@MWolf is absolutely correct.

And in fact, athletes also go through a lot of pre-screening, both in terms of whether the coaches want them and then whether admissions clears them in the pre-read process. Many athletes who are admitted ED were already turned down elsewhere (weren’t high enough on the coach’s list or didn’t pass a pre-read by admissions) and many who don’t apply ED were already told they didn’t have coach support.

But in terms of admissions statistics, it’s as if this pre-admissions activity (QB, Posse, athletic recruitment) never happened. It’s deceptive if you are where @oscar321 is in the process - wondering if the ED advantage is really as great as it seems based on the numbers-- and it’s equally deceptive if you think that everyone who is accepted in a preferred group didn’t go through the kind of winnowing process an unhooked applicant will.