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 :
- You LOVE your ED school and would 110% attend if admitted.
- You're extremely confident you can present a well thought out and crafted application by the ED deadline, which is typically November 1st.
- 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.
Hope that helps! Good luck with admissions!