On December 17, 2020 Harvard College Admissions Office notified a ‘handful’ of lucky golden ticket winners for the perceived once in a lifetime chance for success. The Harvard Crimson reported “Harvard College’s early action acceptance rate decreased to 7.4 percent as the number of total applicants hit a record high, marking the most competitive early admissions cycle in Harvard history.”

#OMG! First of all, the above language acts a lightning rod to instill fear and anxiety in prospective applicants. Let the domino effect of crazed would be present and future Harvard (not to mention Ivy League, MIT, Duke, Stanford, etc.) applicants climb over each other on the hope and prayer to get accepted to a regaled college!

This article is being penned at 7:00 am. Cheers to Harvard, but it is too early to have a vodka on the rocks to celebrate.

The COVID-19 Effect on Harvard’s EA Acceptance

All joking aside, we should use Harvard’s EA statistics to understand the ‘COVID-19 effect’ on the overall college application cycle 2020–2021.

According to the Crimson, “10,086 class of 2025 applicants applied EA, wherein 747 students were accepted, 8,023 were deferred, and 924 were rejected. The average freshman class size at Harvard is approximately 1700 seats. The number of applicants increased by 57 percent from last year, while the College admitted 148 fewer students”.

The Crimson also reported for the previous application cycle 2019–2020 Harvard accepted EA 895 of 6,424 applicants for the class of 2024.

Looking at the 1700 freshman seat allocation for the class of 2025 at Harvard, at the outset 349 class of 2024 deferred enrollment to the class of 2025. Do the math — there are now approximately 1350 freshman seats left for the class of 2025.

In simple terms, College Admissions is a numbers game. Each application cycle, the Dean of Undergraduate Admissions essentially figures out how seats or ‘spots’ in the incoming freshman class will be allocated. I can assure you that every seat is spoken for.

Lots of groups have ‘dibs’ on these seats. Oh please, do not look so surprised that you are actually hearing this for the first time. First generation applicants, athletes, special team players (i.e.., clarinet player or ballet dancer), donor families, and legacy families have first dibs on these seats. Oh, and let us not forget about the accepted student who opted to take a gap year from the previous application cycle.

What do these numbers mean on a microlevel for Harvard applicants for the current application cycle 2020–2021? These are very interesting numbers, especially during a pandemic.

Over 10,000 super smart kids from all over the world applied to Harvard. We can agree that the academic spring semester of their junior year was sub-par. All students hobbled to the finish line (the end of the school year). Life was dis-jointed for everyone, not to mention families who lost loved ones to COVID. The fall semester of their senior year of high school might have been a bit better, perhaps due to adjusting to this alternative universe of living.

BUT, and this is a big but… the students who applied EA have spoken are they are looking to their future, beyond COVID.

The Harvard EA numbers reveal these applicants were highly qualified. In fact, the majority of them met Harvard’s Admissions requirements. How do I know? Out of the 10,086 applicants, only 924 applicants were rejected. Harvard deferred to Regular Admission 8,023 applicants. #WOW. That deferred number speaks to the quality and caliber of applicants.

When we look at Harvard’s EA numbers on a macro-level, the ED and EA admissions numbers appear to be the similar at many of the top colleges in the U.S.. High School Seniors were not shy in applying ED or EA and they decided to take that leap of faith and commit to the school of their dreams.

High School Seniors finally woke up and realized that odds for acceptance to a top college were significantly increased when applying early.

All top colleges are reporting very similar ED and EA application figures. All college admissions offices are reporting that these candidates are all highly intelligent, diverse, and meet the college’s strict admissions requirements.


Most colleges will not be adding freshman seats to the class of 2025. They are absorbing a bit more GAP year students from the class of 2024, and this takes away seats from the class of 2025.

The smart students are all taking advantage of this being a standardized test optional year. They are not submitting less than perfect test scores — and they are correct! COVID is the freebie year for standardized testing. The Deans at all colleges will not infer a negative test score if the scores are not submitted.

What do the Deans of Undergraduate Admissions want to see in all applicants? Grades, Curriculum, and Extracurricular Activities (“EA’s”).

# WISEWORDS: This admissions year focuses on the holistic review of the student, where the Dean will evaluate everything about the student sans standardized tests. We are not re-inventing the wheel here my friends.

For additional insight on the college admissions process, please check out my book on Amazon!

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