A banner year for admissions at U-Va.

This post has been updated.

Another banner admissions year — and a new Early Action program — seems to be elevating the University of Virginia to a higher tier of selectivity, with numbers increasingly resembling those of the Ivy League.


The president’s residence at U-Va. (Dan Addison — University of Virginia)

The early cycle yielded 11,753 applications, of whom 3,187 were offered admission. Their average SAT score was 1,413 of a possible 1,600 points, up significantly from the 1,380 average of last year’s class.

Until 2006, the university had offered a binding Early Decision program, which is similar to Early Action but requires the student to attend if admitted. Early Decision is ethically ambiguous, because it forces students into a decision. . .well, early, before they know their other options.

Early Action is deemed more fair. Or at least, it’s good enough for Harvard and Princeton, who joined U-Va. in adopting Early Action this year.

Harvard admitted 5.9 percent of its applicants this year, Yale 6.8 percent and Princeton 7.9 percent, all record lows. Check out this chart from the Yale Daily News, a fine summation of admission trends in the Ivy League. Shrinking admission rates are said to reflect application inflation, the steady rise in applications per student.

But these schools adjust their admit rates for that; the trend must also reflect a larger share of the nation’s top students applying to the most selective schools. Harvard, for example, received applications from 3,800 valedictorians, out of 24,348 high schools. That means roughly one valedictorian in six applied to Harvard.

The gaudy numbers in Charlottesville pushed the overall U-Va. applicant pool to 28,274, an 18-percent increase over last year and a 50-percent increase in five years. The overall admitted class has an average SAT score of 1,396, and 96 percent come from the top 10 percent of their graduating classes. Those numbers are up 16 points and two percentage points, respectively, from last year.

The university extended 7,759 offers of admission, with a goal of 3,360 students in the freshman class, a yield of about 42 percent. That puts the overall admission rate at 27.5 percent, with early applicants gaining no significant advantage.

Most of the nation’s top colleges have some form of early admission. Penn and Cornell still employ Early Decision, but their peers now mostly favor Early Action, including Stanford and Yale. Early Action programs allow applicants to apply early to multiple schools.

Many of these colleges retreated from early admissions in the past decade, from concern that the program put students under too much pressure and was unfair to low-income applicants, who don’t always know their admission options.

Most of them have now tiptoed back to Early Action, the more defensible option, with the understanding that they will all maintain their commitment to low-income students.

All this, of course, is partly motivated by competitive concerns. Harvard, U-Va. and Princeton were losing talented applicants to other schools with Early Action programs, potentially weakening their pool.

With Harvard, Princeton and U-Va. all adding Early Action programs this year, you can expect every other school in their category to take a hit.

At Penn, for example, this year’s applicant pool dropped by 1.4 percent to 31,216, although the admit rate held steady at about 12 percent and SAT scores rose slightly. Expect similar news from other schools soon.

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