The last week has been way more trick than treat for most high school counselors. More high school seniors than ever before have been applying to colleges through early application programs, and many of those have a November 1 deadline. What started out as a bit of early trickle a few years ago became more of an early flood this year, with Common Application alone reporting 18,000 college applications submitted between on November 1.
It’s certainly a treat to see that many students interested in college, and even better to see that they are organized enough to submit applications this early in the year—even if it meant some long nights and early mornings at the office for the counselors who had to submit all the transcripts to go with those applications. But early applications can also bring some tricks along with them, way after November 1 has come and gone. It’s known as the “If My Early School Doesn’t Take Me” riddle, and you want to make sure you know the answer soon.
Here’s how this works. One of the reasons students apply early to a college is because they just don’t see themselves anywhere else. This is especially true with Early Decision (ED) applicants, who must agree to attend the college that admits them ED. When it comes to applying to college, this isn’t really asking to go steady; this is more like proposing marriage.
Sincere applicants are always a joy to work with, but the increased volume of early applicants means more of them are likely to get deferred, or rejected—and that can be a problem. Many students are so focused on their dream school, they either don’t have a Plan B, or Plan B is something like “I’ll hear from my Early school on . If they don’t admit me, I’ll just apply to my seven backup schools over the holidays.”
That may work out well for the student, if they really want to ring in the New Year in front of a screen. But what about the teachers and counselors who have to send letters and transcripts to support those seven applications—and what if there are, say, 30 students using this strategy in your high school? Do you plan to give up part of your holiday, paying homage to the copier, fax machine, or online application submission program?
If none of those are part of your plan, you’ll want to plan ahead. Tell all students to notify you by of their plans to apply to any schools with a January 1st deadline. Any student who misses that deadline will then know their transcripts and letters will go out after the holidays, late—and that’s real incentive.
It’s likely you’ll get some students who will tell you this deadline is ruining their Early strategy, but you can calm them down by saying “I’m not saying you have to have the application in by then. I’m just saying you need to tell us there’s a chance you’ll apply to that college. If you change you never apply, that’s OK. If you do, my part of your application will already be there.”
This is one of THE hardest parts of the college application process to explain to students, who don’t fully grasp that it’s an asynchronous production. But every part can run together while running independently, and they’re just going to have to trust that. Pick your date, spread the word, and say it often, and everyone can have a December holiday that doesn’t feel like Halloween.