For many colleges, early applications are becoming the new normal.

At the University of Virginia, most applications arrive by Nov. 1 for the first round of freshman admissions. There were about 25,000 early hopefuls for the public flagship university’s Class of 2023, up 17 percent from the previous year. They will learn this month whether they got in.

Those who applied in the second round, ahead of the regular Jan. 1 deadline, will receive decisions by the end of March. Everyone admitted has until May 1 to decide whether to enroll.

As a result, U-Va.'s “admission season” — from the first essays that high school students write for early applications to the last offer made to a wait-listed student to join the fall class — now takes virtually the entire academic year. Fall applications account for more than 60 percent of the annual total. Despite the growing early workload, admission officers aim to give each file a thorough evaluation.

“Everything has become pushed forward,” Greg W. Roberts, U-Va.'s dean of admissions, wrote in an email. The popularity of the early round, he said, “makes our review quite challenging given the tighter window of time.”

U-Va. is hardly alone. Many schools, public and private, report significant increases in early applications.

There are basically two types of early applications. One, known as “early action,” allows those admitted to continue applying and shopping until May. That is the practice for U-Va., Georgetown University, Princeton University and numerous others.

The other, known as “early decision,” requires admitted students to enroll unless the college does not offer adequate financial aid. Applicants, parents and counselors must sign an early decision agreement that spells out the binding commitment. Some schools use two rounds of early decision in addition to a regular round.

At the University of Rochester, about 1,200 applied for fall early decision. That was up 35 percent from the year before. The private research university in Upstate New York also offers a second early decision round in the winter.

“It’s been a long trend for us,” said Jonathan Burdick, Rochester’s dean of admissions and financial aid. “The numbers keep growing rapidly. We’ve had double-digit increases each year for as long as I can remember.”

Occasionally, Burdick said, students admitted through early decision will try to break the rules and keep shopping. Such students run “a genuine risk” of having their offers revoked, he said, if schools learn a contract has been broken. Burdick said he tells prospective students: “Please don’t apply early unless you love Rochester and it’s definitely where you want to be.”

Below are charts with preliminary early application data for the Class of 2023 at selected schools on U.S. News & World Report lists of top national universities and liberal arts colleges. These totals reflect only first-round data — for applications due in October or November — even though several schools offer further chances for early admission in the winter.

University (U.S. News rank)
Fall early application total
Early admission rate 
Application total change
Princeton (1)
5,335
14%
-1%
Harvard (2)
6,958
13%
+5%
Columbia (3)
4,461
n/a
+9%
MIT (3)
9,600
7%
+0.3%
U. of Chicago (3)
15,000 (est)
not available
+10%
Yale (3)
6,016
13%
+5%
Duke (8)
4,852
18%
+19%
U. of Pennsylvania (8)
7,110
18%
+0.5%
Johns Hopkins (10)
2,068
31%
+2%
Northwestern (10)
4,399
25%
+9%
Dartmouth (12)
2,474
23%
+9%
Brown (14)
4,230
18%
+21%
Vanderbilt (14)
2,593
not available
+3%
Cornell (16)
6,159
23%
-3%
Rice (16)
2,628
16%
+39%
U. of Notre Dame (18)
7,337
21%
+17%
Washington in St. Louis (19)
1,800 (est)
not available
little changed
Emory (21)
1,845
30%
+15%
Georgetown (22)
7,803
12%
-7%
Carnegie Mellon (25)
1,743
18%
+6%
U. of Virginia (25)
25,130
not available 
+17%
Wake Forest (27)
1,493
not available
+3%
New York (30)
7,524
not available
+42%
U. of North Carolina (30)
27,846
not available 
+8%
U. of Rochester (33)
1,200
36%
+35%
Georgia Tech (35)
20,288
not available
+12%
William & Mary (38)
827
58%
no comparable data
College (U.S. News rank)
Fall early application total
Early admission rate
Application total change
Williams (1)
688
37%
-8%
Amherst (2)
514
36%
+9%
Swarthmore (3)
613
not available
+12%
Middlebury (5)
654
45%
+0.5%
Barnard (25)
1,235
not available
+24%

Sources: College and university officials, news releases and campus newspapers

Notes: The College of William & Mary and Washington University in St. Louis this school year began offering a winter round of early decision applications, making comparisons to prior fall data difficult. These schools offer early action programs: Princeton, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale, Notre Dame, Georgetown, University of Virginia, University of North Carolina, Georgia Tech. Others listed have early decision programs. The University of Chicago offers both early programs. Stanford University and other prominent schools declined to release data. The University of California does not have early applications.

This story has been updated.