The Early Decision Dilemma
Applying to college is a gamble. You send your applications and test results off to a handful of universities with no guarantee of which ones will accept you, which one you will choose, or if you’re going to be happy with the end result. You play your cards and hope to win. There are a few steps you can take, however, to increase your chances of a happy outcome. The obvious step is to be extremely studious, ace your exams and get top grades. Another way of increasing the odds of getting into a good college is to apply Early Decision, but this option comes with its own set of risks, and is generally beneficial to only a select group of applicants.
The Early Decision program is a binding contract between the student and the institution whereby they mutually agree early on – the ED application deadline for 2011 is November 1st, and the student can expect to hear from the school within a month – that the student will attend that school and withdraw all other college applications. The only way you can break this contract is if you can prove that the school’s financial aid offer is insufficient for your needs. Because of its binding nature, it is designed for students who are completely, 100% certain about which school they wish to attend. If you have any doubt about where you want to study, ED is not for you. If, however, you are one of the few students who do feel fully committed to attending a particular college, ED can make the college application process a relatively smooth experience. You may only apply ED to one college, but you should consider sending regular applications to other schools in case you are not accepted to your first choice. Not all schools use the ED program, so be sure to check the school websites if you are considering this option.
Applying Early Decision can be quite advantageous if you have done the research and truly feel you have chosen a college that you can afford and is a good fit. Using this program can increase your chances of gaining admission, since the school knows that you will be attending if accepted. This allows schools to admit students that will enhance their yield (percentage of admitted students that decide to attend), which positively impacts school rankings.
Applying ED can also eliminate a great deal of the stress typically involved in the college admissions process. There’s a lot to be said for knowing where you are going to study, as you can stop waiting and worrying and start to focus on your priorities. Likewise, you can save a lot of money by reducing the number of applications you file. Statistics show that students who apply ED increase their chances of admission, possibly due to the fact that these students tend to have high academic records. Applying ED can also increase your financial aid package as the school coffers are still be quite full at this stage of the game. Schools like to have a good idea of how many students will be attending and paying fees each year and ED helps them plan their budget. It’s a win-win situation.
But Early Decision is not for everyone. If you are one of the many students whose higher education choices will be strongly influenced by finances, then you will probably want to take the standard route to applying for college. Most colleges offering ED are private schools with high fees. They may offer some level of financial assistance, but when applying ED, you do not have the option of comparing financial aid offers. Once you have been accepted, you cannot wait to see if a different school will offer you more money. State schools do not generally offer the ED program, but tend to be much more affordable. Unfortunately, this is a real deciding factor for many students.
Another disadvantage to the ED program is the pressure it puts on young people to make a very big decision. Choosing where you want to spend the next four years studying is no small matter and many students just haven’t completely decided by their senior year. Applying to a variety of schools can help with this process. When you send out your applications, choose schools where you think you will be happy. No choice will feel perfect, but lots of choices will feel very good. Look for schools where you think you will be happy, but let go of any expectations of finding a school where you will be happiest. All campuses will have things you like and things you hate.
There is no doubt that in every graduating class there will be a group of students who will benefit from applying ED as it will get them into their first choice college and they can spend the rest of their senior year focusing on their studies. These students have done their research and set their sites on a particular college. Most high school seniors, however, will apply to many colleges and choose their final destination by a process of elimination. Both systems work, but ultimately, it is up to the individual student to decide if ED is the best option for them specifically when applying to college.