With the looming deadline for Early Decision candidates, I thought it might be a good time to post about Early Decision/Early Action programs. It sure would be nice if you could find out before April whether or not you got into your top choice US college. Well, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. For the right people and under the right circumstances, not only can you find out by Christmas (as opposed to April) whether you got in or not, but you might actually enhance your chances for admission by quite a bit. But you would be right to think that there has to be a catch and of course, there is! Which is why you need to understand the ins and outs of early decision/early action programs.
Early Decision If you have a top favorite among your college choices and its admission application process has an early decision option, this might be a good move for you. In Early Decision (ED), you have to get your paperwork in much earlier than your fellow applicants. Typically, you have to get your completed application (which means your SAT scores, transcripts, teacher recommendations, your college essay, etc) into the admissions office by November 1, typically (three weeks away for the 2014 graduating class). Some schools have earlier deadlines, some later, so you'll need to check with the individual institutions to see what their deadlines are. You can apply ED to only ONE school and if admitted ED, you MUST attend that school. ED is binding and there's very little wiggle room. The only way to get out of a binding ED agreement is if the financial aid package isn't enough and you cannot afford to attend. In exchange, by applying ED, you are signalling that this school is your top choice (I choose you, Pikachu!) and the school will reward your interest by giving your application an early look and numbers do suggest that universities tend to fill up to 40% of their freshman class ED. Word of warning though to all you overshooters out there: if you are not in any way otherwise qualified to be admitted in April, then applying ED won't make a miracle happen.
The decision will come before Christmas...around Dec 15. There are three possible results: you could be admitted, rejected or deferred. If you are admitted, then congratulations! You've been admitted to your first choice college and you MUST then withdraw your regular decision applications to our colleges. Since you are bound to attend this school, I would suggest that you take any opportunity to visit your new home and get to know your classmates by joining open houses.
You should NOT apply Early Decision if a) you have no clear-cut #1 college choice b) you need financial aid and have to compare financial aid packages c) if you need your senior year grades to boost up your average d) if you will not have finished all your standardized testing by October of your senior year.
You can also be deferred which means a decision on your application cannot be made and you will receive a final decision in April along with the other applicants. You can also be denied admission outright. If this is the case, you cannot re-apply as a Regular Decision candidate in the same year. A question that comes up once in a while is: what happens if I back out of an Early Decision commitment. Well...don't. While no one can legally force you to attend a college that you don't want to, really bad things can happen. The admissions office of the spurned university will be quite upset at you and your high school's guidance office. Examples of schools that have Early Decision: Santa Clara, Wesleyan, Bowdoin, Tufts, Harvey Mudd, Penn, Dartmouth
Early Action (and Restricted or Single Choice Early Action) Early Action (EA) is similar to Early Decision in that your application will be due sooner and you get a decision before Christmas (admit, deferred or deny). But the big difference here is that Early Action is not binding; you do not have to attend the school that admitted you via EA. You don't have to let them know your final college decision until May 1 when all students have to declare where they are going.
Sounds great, what's the catch? Well, since you are not bound to the school as you would be in ED, then your admission boost for applying early won't be nearly as great.
Restricted Early Action (REA) is identical to EA but you cannot apply ED or REA to any other school. You may, however, apply EA to a public (not private!) institution. You can also continue to apply Regular Decision to any college, public or private. Examples of schools that have Early Action: MIT, Caltech, Chicago, Georgetown Examples of schools that have Restrictive Early Action: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford (I think these are the only four schools that have REA but I could be wrong)
Regular Decision Regular Decision (RD) is how most students go. Applications are usually due by beginning to middle of January, decisions come out in late April and student decisions about where they want to attend are due May 1. Obviously, there are no restrictions here, you can choose among all the schools that admitted you.
Rolling Admissions Some of the big state universities do what is called Rolling Admissions. Under this program, applications are read and adjudicated as soon as the admissions office receives them. It's always a good idea to get your papers in as early as possible to a school with rolling admission since as the number of seats in the freshman class start to disappear as the year goes by, the committee becomes stricter and stricter about who gets what seat. Get everything in early enough and you might actually get a decision by Christmas which is like having an Early Decision admission without the commitment. However, for some really large schools (like Arizona State University), they don't fill their freshman class even after May 1 so you can still submit an application even at or beyond that date up to just about the beginning of classes. My own experience is that some Canadian universities have rolling admissions but they don't actually say so. My son Tyler applied to the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada and got all his paperwork in by early October. We had a (positive) decision just before Christmas. Again, it was like Early Decision without the commitment. Tyler had until June to accept Waterloo's admission offer (which he did). Still confused? Drop me a comment and I'll see if I can't help you out.
- Are Early Action and Early Decision Methods Really Worth It? (morethanatestscore.com)
- When to Throw Hat into Early Decision Ring (wnyc.org)