Recently, several parents have called our office to find out more about early admission to college. There are primary questions to be answered before making the stringent commitment to “Early Decision” or the lesser decision to apply for “Early Admission.”
First, a distinction between the two. Early Admission allows a student to apply ahead of time and find out, perhaps in mid-December, whether acceptance has been granted. It permits the student to continue applying to other colleges through the Regular Admission process and delay making a final decision until Spring.
Early Decision, on the other hand, is a resolution on the part of the student to attend that college if accepted, to apply to only that one college, and to withdraw applications to any other colleges. Colleges actually communicate the student information, so don’t try to cheat. Applying through early decision is a non-reversable agreement to attend that school if accepted. Generally, the only way to get out of the contract is by providing proof that the tuition cannot be covered, even with loans.
Some colleges have either one or both of these options intended to benefit certain students and the college itself. For the college, it provides separation of extremely devoted applicants from those who are less determined and also gives a fast start to enrolling the next year’s population. For applicants who have their hearts set on that one, perfect school, it provides the opportunity to find out if the school will accept them or if the search must continue.
Individual schools, of course, are looking for specific criteria for their student body. Grades, college admission tests, extracurricular activities, essays, and a host of other qualifications will influence the college’s choices. Early application of either type may show the school that the student is organized, consistent, and certainly decisive, all qualities that bode well for success in college.
It is risky, however, to assume that early application will give a student a greater probability of acceptance. Ivy League schools’ admission data from 2009 indicate a slightly higher acceptance rate for early applications than for regular deadlines, but these schools also have clearly defined qualifications and well-publicized standards that tend to dissuade marginal candidates from trying for early decision at a “stretch” school. Brown University states in its website, “The Board of Admissions makes the same decisions under early decision that it would make under the regular admission plan.” According to admissionsconsultants.com, “The most selective colleges currently admit 25% to 50% of their total students from the early admissions pool,” leaving at least half of the class positions open to regular admission applicants.
One important consideration related to early applications involves tuition, scholarships, and grant awards.
Early acceptance is usually not accompanied by financial aid package information which may be forthcoming no sooner than for regular admission students. The College Board cautions, “Your child should not apply under ... early decision ... if planning to weigh offers and financial aid packages from several colleges later in the spring.” Some schools admit that early decision students are guaranteed attendees and may not receive bonuses like larger scholarships in order to entice highly qualified students to enroll.
Needs-based financial awards, of course, are based on family income and assets, so the monetary package is the same regardless of early or regular admission. Merit awards at many schools are based on clearly defined criteria and rarely provide an extra “reward” for students just because they apply early.
Other issues revolve strictly around the individual student. If success as a senior would fill in gaps in the student’s resume, later application to college may represent a stronger, more desirable portrait of true potential. Higher college entrance exam scores, elevations in classroom grades, or volunteer experiences may be later in coming but can enhance a college application. Students needing this extra boost may benefit by applying to colleges in the Regular Admission Process.
Answer these questions before deciding to apply to college early.
1. Have you thoroughly investigated possible schools, including researching the school’s reputation, matriculation statistics, job placement results, location, and course offerings?
2. Have you visited the school during all seasons, talked with current students and alumni, and discussed your qualifications and goals with the admissions department?
3. Is this the one and only college you want to attend?
4. Is your application as strong as it will ever be?
5. Will the financial aid package influence your college choice?
If you answered “yes” to questions 1 through 4 and “no” to question 5, you are ready to apply early. Start filling out that application form and the financial aid questionnaire!