A recent discussion among College Counselors and Admissions Officers about whether it is “easier” to get into a highly selective college by applying Early Decision (ED) turned out to be, not surprisingly, inconclusive. The enigmatic statement from Tufts Admissions Representative Meghan McHale bears this out: “It is NOT easier to get in during Early Decision (ED), but sometimes during Regular Decision (RD) it is harder.” How is this?
First off, all highly selective colleges (those that accept under 15% of their applicants) are looking for the very best and the brightest students out there. Because they can! They are rejecting over 85% of their applicants! They will tell you that for the most part, they can fill a freshman class many times over with wonderfully qualified students who could be happy and successful and productive there, make their mark and go on to eventually leave their fortune to them for their name on a building. So if they want to focus on the top academic students with near perfect test scores who have prodigious talent, are practically professional athletes and virtually run their high schools, they can! If not student A, there are plenty more behind.
The main benefit with ED is really for the college, which will be trying to sort out which of the 15 colleges a particular student loves best. ED means you love them best–that their school IS your first choice, and that you are signing a contract guaranteeing that, if admitted, you will withdraw all other applications. If they love you, too, they just might want to snap you up before you have a chance to fall in love with any other college and be attracted by their offers.
The ED advantage to you is the knowledge that you are guaranteed a place in that college’s freshman class before the end of the current calendar year and before you need to complete any more applications. That you don’t have to wait until all of the other ED spots are taken and you must compete for the remaining places with the other RD applicants.
The main thing to remember is this: If you are one of the students they would normally admit, and if you want to become more prominent in the selection pool, ED can be helpful.
Applying ED will not magically move you to the top of the college’s “yes” pile if you would not be a student they would normally admit in Regular Decision. In other words, if you are thinking about applying somewhere ED, don’t waste your one opportunity by applying to a college that is a shot in the dark!
There are pitfalls with ED as well, so it’s important to approach this crucial decision with your eyes open.
Bear in mind, you are signing a four-year contract and committing many thousands of dollars before you have even gotten a chance to weigh your other possible options. Generally, colleges will have you fill out a financial aid application of their own or through College Board with the CSS Profile https://student.collegeboard.org/css-financial-aid-profile (available as of October 1), and will give you a financial aid package with your admission and a window of time to make a final decision about your ability to make this happen. On the other hand, they expect that you have done your research (you can check out your approximate cost through the Net Price Calculator on the college’s website), and they can be unpleasant about letting you out of the contract. One college rep told me “if a student revokes their ED contract, we can contact the other colleges and let them know this; and they may also revoke their applications.” I don’t know how often this actually happens, but it’s something you need to consider.
As Meghan stated, “So what do you do now that you’re empowered with this information? You do the only logical thing: apply to a school ED if you know 100% that you want to be there. If you love a place [and can afford it, and are well within the range of the students they will be likely to accept] your odds will likely be best in ED. So do your research. Visit online or in person. Email, read the blogs, talk to students, leave no stone unturned. Talk with your family about financial aid. Choose wisely. And if you are the kind of student we’d admit in regular, you’re the kind of student we’d admit in ED.”
So what does this mean for your normal, wonderful, bright, successful and productive student?
That means that you should focus on the things that make you you. Learn for learning’s sake, develop the talents you are blessed to have. Actively participate in fun things you love to do and give back because you have something to give to others. Step up and take on leadership where you are needed and maintain good health and activity. Know that there will be wonderful colleges who want you for the person you are. And if you are the kind of student a college will admit, you could maximize your chances by applying ED.
Patricia Bostwick, MA,LPC
Director of College Counseling