Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Is it Smart to Apply Early? Maybe

By Patrick O'Connor

With November 1st coming up, a good number of students may be coming to your door and asking the age-old college question, “Should I apply early?”

As adults, we are wired to respond to this question with an enthusiastic “Yes!”, since the notion of a student doing something ahead of time is pretty exciting, since it’s pretty rare.

Happily, we are trained counselors, so we understand the better thing to do with this question is to ask a clarifying question, like:

“That depends. Where are you applying?”

Since more and more colleges are encouraging student to apply “early”, this specific information is needed so you can give the right advice—which, much to the horror of our adult sensibilities, is sometimes “no.”

If you’re confused, it’s time for a quick review of the “early” terminologies:

Many colleges offer an Early Action option of applying.  Also known as EA, students submitting completed applications by this date (test scores, essays, application fee—the whole thing) will get a decision earlier than most other applicants.  This can be much earlier; some colleges promise students who apply EA by November 1 an answer before Christmas, while their other students will have to wait until April 1.

Just as important, EA doesn’t commit students to anything; if the college admits the student early, the student still has until May 1 to decide which college to attend.  There’s no pressure to pay early or to only go to that college—it’s just a small reward for having things together sooner.

On the other hand, students must be very careful of Early Decision, or ED.  With ED, students apply early—BUT if the college admits, the student agrees to withdraw applications to all other colleges, and promises to attend that college next fall, provided that college meets all of their demonstrated financial need.  Students can apply to other colleges at the same time, but they can only apply ED to one college at a time, so this is serious business—if you’re in, that’s where you’re going, end of story.

A very few colleges offer Early Action Single Choice.  This works like EA, so students aren’t making an early commitment to that college; however, they are agreeing that this is the one and only college they are applying to as an Early school—no EA or ED applications anywhere else.  There are many variations to EASC, including some where students can apply to public colleges Early.  If a student is applying to an EASC school, read the fine print closely, and twice.

Once you know where the student is applying, the advice about applying early is easier to tailor to their individual needs.  As a rule, the only advantage to applying Early Action is that the student hears sooner from the college; since many students are anxious to hear, many apply early, and most colleges don’t take a larger percentage of students from this early program.

The rules change with Early Decision.  Since the student is offering an early commitment to the college, some schools take a very large number of students from the ED group—in some cases, as much as 50%.  Since fewer students apply to ED programs (many students are turned off by the commitment), a student’s chances of getting admitted could (that’s could) go way up by applying ED—it’s just that the increased chance comes at the price of making a very early decision.

There’s a chance some students will come in with questions about applying early to colleges that don’t offer ED, EA, or EASC.  We’ll talk about those next week.

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