WashU or Carnegie Mellon for ED?

I was thinking about applying to either WashU or CMU early decision to study physics, and I was wondering where I have a better shot. I have mediocre grades, definitely at the low end of the range, but a 1590 SAT with decent essays and extracurriculars. Some cursory research seemed to suggest that WashU’s ED acceptance rate was (rather substantially) higher than CMU’s, but I found multiple sources that differ significantly on how much easier. It seems there isn’t much reliable data on this.

I would think that CMU should be easier because it has the higher acceptance rate in general, not to mention that WashU is usually ranked as a better school. I read something along the lines of “WashU is tired of being an ‘Ivy League backup/safety,’ and so is favoring ED applicants,” but wouldn’t accepting such a high proportion of applicants contradict that rationale by making it so much easier to get into? I’ve seen sources say its ED acceptance rate is as high as 38%, which I find hard to believe.

I’d be thrilled if I could get into either one of these, so at which university do you think I have a better shot?

ED acceptance rates tend to be skewed due to legacies and other applicants with hooks. However, there’s still an advantage (to what extent, I do not know) to applying ED, especially at WashU that considers demonstrated interest (CMU does not.) WashU DOES offer merit scholarships, but these are EXTREMELY competitive: if you would require one of these to attend, I highly, highly suggest applying RD.

Most selective schools offering ED do so in-order to decrease their acceptance rate RD and in-total (ED applicants can be up to 1/2 of a class, and are mostly a guarantee of enrollment for the school,) which allows them to increase their “prestige” in the public’s perception.

If you require a lot of financial aid in-order to attend, keep in mind that WashU is need-aware, while CMU is need-blind WashU will meet full need for all admitted students, though idk about CMU.)

CMU’s acceptance rate is VERY misleading, as CS’ admission rate is VERY different from the rest of the university i.e. the field you apply to does matter (at least for CS.) Physics, however, is located in the Mellon College of Science, while at WashU it’s in Arts & Sciences. If you have other interests than Physics, you may want to research the feasibility of taking courses in other fields, or even double majoring.

I would not call WashU an “Ivy League safety:” it’s an extremely selective school with great academics. Both schools are known for the rigor of their curricula, and are top research universities. However, St. Louis is very different from Pittsburgh: keep in mind that you won’t just be attending a college but living in the college’s location for the next four years.

You might consider making a pros and cons list. While perceived prestige should not be a pro; strong alumni networks w/sponsored internships, graduate school advising, undergraduate research opportunities ARE.

HOWEVER, IMO applying ED is a decision that should not be taken lightly: ONLY do so if ALL of the following are true—NOT to maximize your chances of getting into a “selective” school :

  1. You LOVE your ED school and would 110% attend if admitted.
  2. You're extremely confident you can present a well thought out and crafted application by the ED deadline, which is typically November 1st.
  3. You and your family can afford your ED school if admitted (run the financial aid calculators if applicable, but again, keep in mind that these are ESTIMATES, NOT guarantees of aid.)

What range is your GPA in, and more importantly, how rigorous was your course schedule (AP/IB/Honors etc.)? Is the highest GPA at your school in a similar range? Keep in mind that schools like CMU and WashU get thousands of applications yearly, so in a sense (even though you’ll be considered in context, schools DO create yearly class profiles, and they want the ranges to be consistently the same or higher,) you will be competing against other applicants with higher GPAs and rigorous course schedules, so while it’s definitely possible (though not guaranteed, and it depends on your courses and your school’s grading rigor) to get in with a 3.7 or 3.8, it’s virtually impossible (barring extenuating circumstances or major accomplishments) to get in with a 2.5 GPA, for example: these schools have too many other applicants all competing for the same few seats in a class.

Also, make sure you are applying to WIDELY to schools: safeties, matches, AND reaches. :smile:

Hope that helps! Good luck with admissions!

Thank you so much for replying, I really appreciate it! You were extremely helpful, so don’t feel obligated to respond to this.

It sounds like I have a better shot at WashU which is nice because I hear it has a nicer campus, dorm quality, social life (whatever that is), food, etc. I would have made my decision solely based on that, but of course all that means nothing if I can get into CMU but not Washington. I understand the romance of only applying ED to one’s favorite school and not to maximize chances of acceptance, but I don’t really have that luxury. But I guess it worked out like that anyway. But like I said, I would still be thrilled to go to CMU.

I have all honors and above classes except for freshman Spanish, 8 AP’s (though that includes psych, enviro, and stats). My weighted GPA is pretty good, though my school is known to inflate that. My unweighted is either 3.3 or 3.5 (I have two different resources telling me two different things. I need to figure this out but 3.3 sounds more accurate.) I’m really hoping that 1590 can work wonders.

I will be applying to the colleges of arts and science of each school to study physics. I do plan on double majoring in math (though physics takes priority so math will be relegated to a minor if necessary), so I’ll be staying in that school. Unfortunately it’s nearly impossible to find admissions data for those individual undergraduate schools.


88% are in the top 10 %of their class.

And it’s important to understand that the bottom quartile is mostly populated with students that get relaxed standards for admission, which includes athletes, under represented minorities, and legacy.

In other words, if you really want to ED at one of these two places, go ahead, but be sure to have a good set of match and safeties as well.

High School grades are the most important factor in college admissions and a high SAT score doesn’t change that. One three hour test doesn’t cancel 3+ years of class work performance.

To be blunt, even a 3.5 is an extreme stretch for both schools.

Wash U brought back EDII a couple of years ago. So if they’re offering it again this year you could ED1 at CMU and, if not admitted, ED2 at Wash U.


Imo, OP is approaching this wrong. If you don’t match what they look for, (and that covers rigor, stats, ECs, perspective and more,) you have zero advantage in any Early app. Add to that, any kid needs to understand the target college better than reducing it to a % admitted. They’ll screen you for an expected level of understanding of what the college offers- and wants to find. Not what YOU want or you heard about dorms, etc.

They don’t do Early to manipulate their prestige. They’re still looking for the right kids. For STEM, you’ll compete against kids with 4.0 and high scores, the right experiences in and out of the high school. Not all, but that’s how fierce it is.

It’s not the number of AP, those actual scores can matter. We don’t know the competitiveness of your hs or level of teaching. Or even what grades in what courses. Adcoms at this level will be looking at the transcript. You can try to calculate gpa based only on cores, they matters more to adcoms at this level than PE or some less academic electives. Unweighted, the raw grades.

Again, as I said in my original post, I don’t recommend applying ED just because you want to maximize your chances of going to a “selective” school. I’ve heard the environment at WashU tends to be pre-professional (they have a section on their admissions website all about being pre-med) due to the high % of INTENDED (some decide to pursue other interests) pre-business, and more-so, pre-health students; the environment’s not for everyone, and is something that should be taken into account.

Your unweighted GPA will typically be listed on your official HS transcript. If it’s not, your school might not calculate unweighted GPAs for students. However, as @lookingforward says, schools mainly care about academic courses (math, science, social science, english, and foreign language----maybe art if it’s AP level or a listed interest— though DEFINITELY not PE.)

To understand your application profile further, which courses did you not do as well in? Are we talking about Bs or Cs? Were they primarily AP, honors, or non-honors courses? Were they in STEM or outside of STEM (Bs in the latter are better than Bs in the former b/c you’re applying for STEM.) What are your ECs like (you’ll be considered in context, which means both locally and across the state?)

Hope that helps!

You should also, more importantly, ask your high school counselor for guidance (Naviance can be helpful as well, but it doesn’t take into account legacies and those with other hooks,) as they’ll best be able to advise you on how your stats and application compares to other students from your school admitted to CMU and WashU.