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The Early Admissions Game

The Early Admissions Game

Joining the Elite, With a New Chapter

Christopher Avery, Andrew Fairbanks, Richard Zeckhauser

ISBN 9780674020344

Publication date: 07/01/2009

Each year, hundreds of thousands of high school seniors compete in a game they’ll play only once, whose rules they do not fully understand, yet whose consequences are enormous. The game is college admissions, and applying early to an elite school is one way to win. But the early admissions process is enigmatic and flawed. It can easily lead students toward hasty or misinformed decisions.

This book—based on the careful examination of more than 500,000 college applications to fourteen elite colleges and hundreds of interviews with students, counselors, and admissions officers—provides an extraordinarily thorough analysis of early admissions. In clear language it details the advantages and pitfalls of applying early as it provides a map for students and parents to navigate the process. Unlike college admissions guides, The Early Admissions Game reveals the realities of early applications, how they work and what effects they have. The authors frankly assess early applications. Applying early is not for everyone, but it will improve—sometimes double, even triple—the chances of being admitted to a prestigious college.

An early decision program can greatly enhance a college’s reputation by skewing statistics, such as selectivity, average SAT scores, or percentage of admitted applicants who matriculate. But these gains come at the expense of distorting applicants’ decisions and providing disparate treatment of students who apply early and regular admissions. The system, in short, is unfair, and the authors make recommendations for improvement.

The Early Admissions Game is sure to be the definitive work on the subject. It is must reading for admissions officers, guidance counselors, and high school seniors and their parents.


  • Readers seeking solid information about elite colleges will find The Early Admissions Game refreshingly frank. Other readers concerned about restoring some equity to the process will also appreciate the book’s generosity of spirit and suggestions for reform. The authors present a devastating portrait of elite college admissions—and early admissions in particular—as an elaborate and complicated ‘game’…[where the winners] tend to be privileged students who have access to highly skilled counselors with information pipelines to elite college admissions offices.

    —The Nation


  • Christopher Avery is Professor of Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
  • Andrew Fairbanks is former Associate Dean of Admissions at Wesleyan University.
  • Richard Zeckhauser is Frank P. Ramsey Professor of Political Economy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

Book Details

  • Harvard University Press