Early decision programs -- in which applicants pledge to enroll if admitted -- continue to grow in popularity at colleges where admissions are competitive. And admissions pools at all types of colleges are increasingly dominated by female applicants.
The 2004 survey  from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, released last week, found that 66.7 percent of colleges that admit fewer than 50 percent of applicants saw an increase in the number of early decision applicants.
Overall data on early decision applications are deceptive, as they show that more colleges (45.1 percent) showed a decrease in such applications than showed an increase (37.3 percent). But most of the decreases came at colleges where being admitted isn't that difficult, and so where early decision isn't that big a deal. At colleges that are virtually open admissions (they admit at least 85 percent of applicants), 71.4 percent report a decline in early applications.
Early decision has grown controversial in recent years as more high school students -- especially those from top high schools -- apply early, and as competitive colleges have filled larger portions of their freshmen classes with early applicants. Critics say that students are being pressured to make a commitment too early, and note that minority and low income students tend to be less comfortable with early decision.
Gender and Applications
The NACAC survey also asked admissions officers about whether their applicant pools had more women or men. And the results suggest that the recent trend of women making up larger shares of undergraduate populations will continue.
In every category of college, NACAC found that colleges were more likely to have more applications from women than from men. However, the gap was narrower at certain kinds of colleges, such as large institutions, colleges in the West, and selective colleges.
In total, 65.7 percent of colleges reported having more female applicants, while only 14.9 percent of colleges had more male applicants. (The remainder in this breakdown and those below either had an even split or were single-sex institutions.)
By institutional size, the gender gap narrowed in applications to institutions with at least 20,000 students. At these universities, 45.5 percent reported having more female applicants, and 27.3 percent reported having more male applicants. The gap was greater at smaller institutions.
In terms of geography, the gap was greatest in Middle Atlantic states, where 73.6 percent of colleges reported having more male applicants, and 12.7 percent reported having more female applicants. In the West, only 59.2 percent of colleges had more female applicants while 18.3 percent had more male applicants.
Comparing colleges by selectivity, at those that admit from 50 to 69 percent of applicants, 67.1 percent report having more female applicants while 13 percent report having more male applicants. But among those that accept less than 50 percent of applicants, 58.7 percent report having more women applying and 24 percent report having more men applying.