As you, overly anxious high school student, begin the college admissions process, applying early probably seems like the quickest way to get past this grueling period of vulnerability and judgment.
While the thought of having all of your applications done in time to fully appreciate your last year in high school may sound delectable, before you hit that magical “submit” button, don’t let that be the only reason for getting a head start on your applications.
Early admission policies can be broken down into three categories: early decision, restrictive early action and early action.
Early decision (ED): Early decision candidates may fill out only one early application, as applicants apply early with the understanding that admission is binding. If accepted, an applicant must withdraw all applications to other institutions and enroll at that particular school.
Examples: University of Rochester, Pomona College, Skidmore College
Restrictive early action (REA): A broad term meaning a college has an early action program with specific limitations on where else applicants can apply. It’s important to check the restrictions a college places under REA because they can vary.
Examples: Boston College, Stanford University, Yale University
Early action (EA): A non-binding early admission program. Unlike early decision, applicants can apply early to the college but are not required to attend.
Examples: University of Chicago, Washington College, University of Michigan
Pro: Show interest. At some colleges, applying early can give you an advantage because it signals to admissions officers that their school is your definite first choice. At other schools, mainly the ones with annually high college rankings, applying early shows your commitment but it doesn’t have as much of an impact since the majority of people will be interested in those schools. With that said, if an admissions officer is comparing your applications to others, demonstrating your enthusiasm in the particular college by applying early may be the difference between you being accepted or rejected.
Con: Financial aid. One of the primary flaws with applying early decision is the inability to compare financial aid packages. Cost is one of the most important factors in selecting which college to attend and applying early can leave you wondering if you could have gotten more money at another school.
Most college websites have a net price calculator where you can input financial information (your parent’s income, your savings, the number of people in your household, etc.) to get a rough estimate of how much financial aid you are eligible to receive. Using this tool can help you decide whether an early application is a wise financial idea.
Pro: Save money on applications. If you get in early, you don’t have to spend more money applying to other schools. Considering some applications can cost upward of $100, in this bleak economy, that’s a desperately needed blessing.
Con: More competitive applicants. Be aware that during the early admissions round, you’ll be competing with applicants who are recruited athletes, legacies or have something special that the admissions office desires like a talent for playing a necessary instrument. These applicants are generally given high priority and a notable reason why early admissions rates tend to be slightly higher than rates during regular decision.
Pro: Reduce stress (for everyone). Applying to college is a collaborative effort. It includes your parents, guidance counselor, teachers who write recommendations and even your friends.
Applying early can decrease anxiety levels because every component of the application gets done sooner than expected, meaning you can get more individual attention from your guidance counselor or on your teacher recommendations because there are fewer people applying at that time.
The primary benefit of applying earlier is getting to know your admissions result sometime in December rather than March. If you get accepted, the letter (or most likely online notification) greatly reduces stress since your college admissions experience is nearly complete with the exception of alerting the college of your enrollment. If you get a deferral or rejection, do not think you are doomed to a career with a minimum-wage salary. Being deferred or rejected, although initially displeasing, can help you reflect on the weaknesses and strengths of your applications so that you can become a more competitive candidate during the regular admissions round.
Con: Less time to work on the application. An earlier deadline means you have less time for revising essays, double-checking information and sending in standardized test scores, which can lead to an unpolished application. It also means your first semester grades won’t be available, so if you earned less-than-stellar grades your junior year, you can’t redeem yourself with senior grades in time for admission purposes.
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