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Will EA/ED Help Me?

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

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A Key Admissions Factor

Yield rate is the percent of admitted students who chose to attend. Colleges optimize admissions to get the highest yield possible.

In addition to the Why This College essay, early action and early decision are powerful tools for communicating that you are likely to (or definitely will) go to a school.


Each college is secretive about their own unique admissions process. Everything that follows is based on my personal experience as an admissions counselor.

Admissions Threshold

Let's start with a simplified graph. The X-axis shows applicant strength, and the line in the middle is the admissions threshold: how good* you have to be to get into this college.

*It's more complicated than a raw number because colleges want students with diverse interests and backgrounds. A college doesn't want 100% of its freshman to be CS majors!

Early Zone

Here's the same graph with 3 hypothetical student applicants:

  • Student #1 will not get in no matter how they apply.

  • Student #3 will get in no matter how they apply.

  • Student #2 will be more competitive against others in this range if they apply ED.

The Early Zone is the range just beyond the admissions threshold where students receive the maximum benefit from ED.

Since EA doesn't guarantee enrollment, many people say EA doesn't boost your admissions chances. (Others do, though.)

The fact that EA has a higher acceptance rate might be because many applicants in the Student #3 category choose to apply early.

Waitlist Issue

The charts above are simplifications. Except for the absolute top colleges, most colleges have projected ranges for what kind of students they expect will choose to attend. (Increasing yield rate over many years can push this projected range further to the right.)

An overqualified student might be waitlisted to avoid negatively impacting yield rate.

This happened to me with my safety schools, which caused a lot of stress because they were the first schools I heard back from.

In the chart below, applying ED will make any student in either yellow* area more competitive (against other students in yellow regions).

*Is this orange or yellow? I can't tell, and I made this chart...

Further Reading

Nelson Turing isn't affiliated with Sapient, but his fantastic post on yield rate is what inspired me to write this post. His article is about boarding school admissions, but I'd still recommend reading it for insight into the admissions process and Why This College essay.

That's it for this guide! I hope it eases some of the stress of applying to colleges.

— Aaron

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