Visualized below are all the applications filed at 81 colleges for Fall 2021. On the left are all the binding applications (Early Decision and its various iterations), and on the right are the non-binding apps--Early Action, Early Action 1, Early Action 2, Priority, Rolling, and undoubtedly other jargon with which I am not familiar.
Behold the sheer volume of non-binding applications. For every applicant who enrolled, 19.5 applications were submitted. In contrast, ED's ratio was 2.96:1.
Don't miss the individual breakdowns of this visualization--I'll attach a screenshot from Northeastern.
Certainly the purpose of this post is not to pressure everyone into binding applications, although there's still time to do that at most colleges. The reason I put this together is to show you what a numbers game this has become. It's not more rigorous academically than it was five years ago--it's just more confusing.
It bears repeating: the job of an admissions office is not to admit the most deserving candidates; their unenviable task is to enroll the next class without admitting too few or too many people, without sacrificing their quantifiable standards, and without giving too much revenue away.
As we say in the South, it's a hot mess. I wish I could fix it, but I can't. My best advice for students: forsake "more" for "better." Make it personal by connecting with admissions staff members at your colleges of most interest. Write thoughtful supplemental essays with no evidence of copy-and-paste tactics. Also, tend to all the post-application emails you receive from colleges.
Want to know more? Check out our dataset!