The first wave of application deadlines, REA (Restricted Early Action - non-binding), EA (Early Action - non-binding), and ED (Early Decision - binding), are just around the corner. Students that have had the time and support, and are good planners, may be taking advantage of these application options. For some students, completing the college application phase early allows them to settle into their senior year without feeling entrenched in essays and application details. In addition, there is always the incentive of finding out early where they will attend. Gauging whether to apply early can be a good application plan, but requires answering several questions beyond stating, “If accepted, I will attend!” In addition to creating the right application timeline, spotting the meaning in messages that colleges send out like: “we offer holistic reviews,” “apply broadly to our school,” or “there is no difference between EA, ED, or RD” and (wink, wink) “everyone will have a fair shot,” is part of doing your homework. Specifically, try to answer what percentage of the admitted class is accepted during EA, ED, EDII, and RD. Look at the ED vs. RD rate. Can you figure out if a school’s application options are all about moving up the on U.S. News Rankings ? Is part of your application strategy geared towards getting into a highly selective school or a program like Engineering or Computer Science? Deciding to apply ED also requires understanding who ED favors, that there are more qualified students applying than spots available, and digesting the reality that a strong GPA, excellent test scores, and stellar extracurriculars will not necessarily be enough to be admitted.
While the relevance of standardized test scores continues to be debated, for many highly selective schools, test scores are still a factor, and for schools that receive a lot of applications, test scores are one data point to help quickly sift applications into piles. Have you done a reality check on where your test scores fit with the scores for admitted students? Add this to your assessment equation.
You will also need to be aware of the potential changes in admissions prompted by the Department of Justice and the National Association for College Admission Counseling rule changes. While it is too early to know what changes will be made and when, and the impact of those changes on students, once again the winds of admissions are shifting. Whether colleges will increase their deposit amounts, offer incentives for housing options, or financial discounts, etc. or if the May 1st deadline becomes more fluid are purely speculative, but ones that continue to float in the news. What this does not mean is that students should adjust their application plans now based on speculation. Instead, they can take advantage of the time leading up to submitting their applications to weigh out if ED is the right path for them. Seniors should complete and submit their applications based on the work they have done to determine their best college fits and well-thought-through application plans.
As you prepare to submit your applications, you may want to incorporate some of these questions to help you determine “to ED or not to ED.” Be sure to add your own questions:
What factors do you need to know when applying to schools that may be in your Reach category or have an admit rate of 25% or lower? Have you identified if a school is a “Likely,” “Best Fit,” or “Reach” yet?
Have you visited the school you’re considering applying to ED?
Do you have a list of “Whys” that line up with what makes this particular school ED worthy (e.g., majors, costs, extracurriculars, location, size, campus culture, etc.)?
Has the school increased or decreased admitted student classes? Some schools like George Washington are paring back their admitted classes, while others like Santa Clara are aiming to increase their enrollment, but in particular programs.
What are the school’s mission priorities and how does it impact early admission options– e.g., public universities with guidelines and percentages? How many Out-of-State or In-State students do they accept?
Can you afford to attend with or without Financial Aid?
Are you excited and ready to go to college - without second thoughts?
Are your parents ready for you to go to college - without second thoughts?
For the highly qualified student with an eye on a highly selective school, deciding to apply Early Decision is about more than finding a single dream school. Instead, deciding to apply Early Decision requires committed research to assess if a school is a true match, grounded with accessible information.
What many students and families don’t realize is that the majority of students apply Regular Decision, and grappling with the Early Decision quandary is not a necessity of the college application journey. Instead, it is a choice of “to ED or not to ED.”
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