Senior chatter in high schools right now is often about whether or not to apply Early Decision (ED) to a particular college. The stakes feel high since acceptance rates for many colleges are higher for early decision than for regular decision (RD). We have to remember, though, that Early Decision is really just a powerful vehicle for colleges to fill their classes early. It’s not necessarily a tool that is in the best interest of our kids. More on that in a sec.
Here’s a quick explanation of Early Decision and Early Action:
With Early Decision, students submit one application ED (often by November 1 or November 15) and sign, along with their parents and counselor, that if they are admitted, they will withdraw applications from all other colleges if they gain admission. In other words, it’s a binding decision, and if your child is accepted, they are going. If a family can prove that their student cannot attend for financial reasons, they may be able to get out of this commitment; be forewarned, though, that colleges and high school counseling offices do not take this lightly.
Alternatively, Early Action (EA) allows students to apply early (again by November 1 or 15). There’s typically a bump in acceptance rates, but the beauty of Early Action is that it is not binding, and you can apply to multiple schools through Early Action. Kids can apply early, get a decision by mid-December, but wait until April to decide where they want to go to college. Applying EA is my favorite option!
A few things to consider before deciding to apply Early Decision:
Our kids develop an enormous amount during senior year. They may be completely different people in April of senior year compared to how they were in November. The colleges they like in November may very well not meet their needs/wants in April.
A student who would like to apply ED should set foot on the campus before they apply to make sure the fit is right. It’s hard to visit campuses right now with Covid, but it’s paramount, in my opinion, to at least walk around campus and talk with a few current students. Anecdotally, college consultants note that 50% of their transfer students had applied Early Decision initially.
It’s the rare kid who really knows which one college is best for them by November. Early Decision just perpetuates the myth that there is one perfect college for a teenager. There are hundreds and hundreds of amazing colleges out there; the goal should really be to whittle them down to a balanced list of 10-12 and then be able to sift through acceptances until they find the right fit.
Applying Early Decision prevents you from 1) being able to weigh financial aid and merit aid offers in April and 2) being able to attend Admitted Student Weekends in the spring. These events--where kids can spend the night and hang out with both current and prospective students--can give them a real feel for these campuses and help them make a truly informed decision.
It is perpetually disappointing to me that so many colleges offer Early Decision and so few offer Early Action. A huge proportion of college-aged students who have to understand the financial picture before they choose the right college are shut out of Early Decision entirely, and that is blatantly unfair. The current collegiate focus on equity is moving in the right direction, but as long as Early Decision is still in the picture, we have a long way to go.
I help students and their families navigate the college admissions process. I empower students to figure out who they are and where they belong, and I provide structure, insight, and enthusiasm as we find colleges that are the best fit academically, socially, and financially. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a 30 minute complimentary session to learn more!