Delaware Today College Guide 2012: Getting a Jump
Is Applying Early to Your Favorite Colleges Really Worth It?
Whether or not applying early improves your chances of getting into college is the wrong question. The better question is: “For the colleges on my list, am I a suitable candidate for an early program, and do I want to take advantage of that option?” After all, it’s not really an advantage to be accepted early at a school if you haven’t decided you really want to go there.
That said, we know you would like us to try to answer this question. Unfortunately, the answer is that it’s situational and complicated—and involves a lot of “inside baseball” about the college admission office. Here it is.
Whether or not there is an advantage to applying early will vary from school to school and from applicant to applicant at each school. At schools that want to fill their classes with students who have made a commitment to the college through early decision or made it clear that they are sincerely interested by submitting their application through early action, there may be an advantage. But at other schools, applying early will make no difference. You just apply earlier and find out earlier. For some schools, the early plan may be the most competitive part of the admission cycle; at others, it could be the least competitive.
For example, when the admit rate for early applications is higher than the admit rate under regular decision, you can’t necessarily conclude that there is an advantage. It may be that the candidates were stronger statistically, or that they just happened to meet other institutional priorities of the college. Students who apply early are often statistically among the strongest students a college will admit—these students are not relying on first-semester senior-year grades and November scores to boost their candidacy. Also, special-circumstance groups—such as athletes or legacies—may be steered toward the early pool, which can skew the statistics in a way that is difficult to sort out without a lot of inside information.
One thing is for sure: Applying early is no solution for weak grades or other problems a student may have. As Wesleyan University Dean of Admission Nancy Meislahn has said, “Applying early does not have a Rumpelstiltskin effect: You can’t spin C’s into A’s.”
As you can see, for every generalization about how applying early creates an advantage, there are many exceptions. Because of this, it’s important that students and families not use an early plan merely to game the system. Applying early as a strategy works only if you know it’s your first-choice school and if you definitely want to go there—and then it’s not a strategy but a natural outgrowth of your interest.
If accepted, the student has until May 1 to respond. If deferred, the student’s application is moved to the regular decision pool for later consideration.
If you have applied early, and you’re in, congratulations.
We now encourage you to do the right thing. If you know you will not enroll at some of the other colleges on your list, don’t apply to them. Go back through that original list and cross off those schools. Or, if you’ve already sent in your applications,
let those colleges know your plans. Don’t collect trophies in the form of admission letters from colleges you will never attend.
There are some exceptions to this rule. Some colleges want to make their case to you, even if you have been admitted to another college under rolling admission, early action, or
restrictive early action. If there are schools on your list that you can still imagine you might attend, feel welcome to keep your options alive, provided you are open to the case those colleges will make. And if you need to compare financial aid or merit scholarship awards, you will definitely want to proceed with applications to the other schools on your list.
As you can see, this isn’t simple. But matters of integrity rarely are. Think carefully, and for any school where you would just be collecting another acceptance letter, let that college know your decision as soon as possible so they can offer
your seat to another student who wants to attend.
The Advantages of Rolling Admission, Early Action and Restrictive Early Action Plans
• An early answer without a required commitment to enroll.
• Unrestricted choice.
• Time. You have until May 1, so you are able to consider all your options as decisions come in from other schools to which you have applied.
• An acceptance takes some of the pressure off, and a denial allows you to move on and concentrate on other favorite schools, any one of which you should be happy to attend.
• Students and their families have the opportunity to consider and compare financial-aid awards from multiple schools and weigh that information into their choice.
Is Applying Early a Good Idea for Me?
If you’re considering early decision, work through all of the following questions:
• Of all the colleges on your list, is this the school where you’d unquestionably go?
• Is your first-choice school an environment that fits you well, but also a place where you can change and grow?
• Have you felt the school is your first choice for more than a few days or weeks?
• Do you and your parents agree that if you are given a reasonable financial aid package, you will attend the school — even if others were to offer you stronger aid packages or a merit scholarship?
If you’re considering early action or restrictive early action, start here:
• Do your junior-year grades and classes support an early application, relative to the philosophy and practice of the college to which you’re applying?
• Have you completed all standardized testing by October of your senior year?
• Considering your commitments to extracurricular activities or work, will you be able to complete your application by November?
• Are you a student with a special talent, such as an athlete, or a special circumstance, such as a legacy applicant?
Reprinted from the book College Admission by Robin Mamlet and Christine VanDeVelde. Copyright © 2011 by Robin Mamlet and Christine VanDeVelde. Published by Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc.