High school seniors who feel a deep connection to Cornell may choose to apply in the early decision track, which increases their odds of acceptance through a binding agreement. But less students will be offered admission to the University this way starting this upcoming admission cycle.
In an effort to increase equity in the admissions process, the Faculty Senate discussed the implications of fewer students being admitted in the early decision round going forward at their Oct. 11 meeting.
Last year, Cornell admitted 1,670 students to the Class of 2027 during the early decision application round in December. Out of the 4,994 accepted students to Cornell’s Class of 2027, approximately 33 percent of the students applied to and were accepted in this accelerated process.
Applicants to the class of 2026 were about three times more likely to be accepted during the early decision round than they were during the regular decision round, with an acceptance rate of 17.6 percent through early decision compared to 5.7 percent for regular decision.
The University’s Presidential Task Force on Undergraduate Admissions provided recommendations in September for how Cornell could alter and improve their admissions process.
The University is obligated to regularly review its admissions practices to ensure that the application process effectively recruits and admits a diverse group of talented students from across the world.
Per recommendations from the task force, one such change already underway this application cycle is reducing the number of students admitted through early decision — a process that is designed for applicants who prioritize Cornell as their first choice, as it is a binding decision requiring a student to withdraw all their other college applications upon acceptance to the University.
Most students admitted to Cornell are typically accepted through the regular decision round, a non-binding decision, with applicants applying in January and receiving a decision on Ivy Day at the end of March.
The proportion of students admitted early decision at other Ivy League universities that offer the admissions track are similar to the percentage at Cornell, with 32 percent of Dartmouth’s Class of 2026 and 34 percent of Brown’s Class of 2027. Despite the similar proportions, Cornell has begun reducing early decision admitted students.
Former interim vice president for enrollment Jason C. Locke told The Sun in 2018 that legacy students have a greater chance of being accepted in the early decision round as a result of a mutual commitment relationship. A representative of Cornell declined to comment on the University’s early decision application process.
Several students told The Sun that they applied early decision because they thought it would increase their chance of admission.
Emerson Mellon ’26, a student in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, applied early decision during the 2021-2022 application cycle.
“I [applied] early decision because Cornell was my dream school, and I figured it would be the best chance of getting in,” Mellon said. “Usually [Cornell] has higher admittance rates for early decision [applicants] over regular decision [applicants].”
Yiwei Yan ’25, a student in the College of Engineering, also applied early decision. Yan figured her chances of acceptance would be higher if she chose to submit her application to Cornell early on, despite it being binding.
“There is a higher acceptance rate for ED,” said Yan. “There was a chance that I could get it [through the regular decision track], but I needed to risk it a little bit.”
Other students, however, told The Sun that they applied through the regular decision track because they wanted to keep their college choices open.
Jennifer Zhu ’26, a student in the College of Arts and Sciences, applied regular decision to Cornell since she did not want to limit her college choices.
“Going into the application process, I wanted to have a broader range of schools to choose from and applying early decision would restrict that if I got in,” Zhu said.
Ronan Chatterji ’26, a student in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, also applied regular decision because he had not exclusively set his sights on Cornell upon applying for college.
“I wasn’t too sure where I wanted to go to college coming into my senior year,” Chatterji said.
Prof. Avery August, immunology, who serves as the deputy provost of the Faculty Senate discussed the reasoning for opening more slots in the regular decision process at the Oct 11. Faculty Senate meeting.
“As many of you know, there’s a significant proportion of the class that’s admitted to Cornell late in the fall in early decision,” August said. “The decision was made to reduce that proportion and increase regular decision admissions processes.”
Mellon agreed with the decision to reduce the proportion of students admitted through early decision, as students applying through the regular admissions cycle have more time to review the application process and determine if Cornell is the right college for them.
“There should be more variation when a student is accepted because for Cornell and a lot of schools that do ED, much of their class comes out of ED,” Mellon said. “So it’s a lot harder to get in regular [decision].”
Zhu also supports the decision.
“It’s good that they’re opening it up for regular decision applicants who might not have considered Cornell their first choice,” Zhu said. “Throughout the application process, [students are] able to change their opinions about it, and see whether or not they like it.”
Not all students are supportive of this admissions switch. Despite applying regular decision himself, Chatterji said he disagrees with Cornell’s decision to reduce the proportion of students admitted through early decision, believing the early round of the admissions process to be valuable to both the University and prospective students.
“I am against Cornell doing this because I think early decision is a very viable opportunity to look for interested students early on in the admissions process,” Chatterji said. “Knowing that you have so many students fully 100 percent committed to your school, that’s very valid.”
However, Chatterji also believes that the binding aspect of early decision can discourage students from applying early.
“There’s definitely pros and cons to both choices,” Chatterji said. “If I hadn’t fallen in love with the school the way I did, I would have been left in a binding contract. You don’t really have another option or an alternative.”
Yan said that if she were a current applicant, she would not appreciate the changes to the admissions process but that she understands some of the benefits of reducing the proportion of students admitted through the early decision track.
While the early decision track is devalued at Cornell, legacy admissions will persist at Cornell for now.
“The task force and administration felt that they weren’t yet ready to make a decision on the issue of legacy. but it’s still being very heavily considered and thought about,” August said.
However, there is currently pending New York State legislation that would ban legacy preferences at higher education institutions within the state if passed.
Regardless of the admissions process, Chatterji said that applicants will continue to look for opportunities to better their chances of admission at Cornell.
“Given how selective admissions are these days, people will jump at every opportunity they have,” Chatterji said.
Breanna Ferreira can be reached at [email protected].
Correction, Nov. 30, 9:38 a.m.: A previous version of this article switched the acceptance rates for early decision and regular decision. The article has been corrected and The Sun regrets this error.