Summer is wrapping up and back-to-school supplies are beginning to crowd store shelves. If you’re a senior stocking up for your last year of high school, though, you’ve got bigger decisions to make than simply which backpack will best withstand the weight of all your textbooks this year. College applications are right around the corner, and if you’ve been toying with applying early decision it’s time to start getting serious.
What Is Early Decision?
Early decision is an application option for students who are ready to commit to attending a specific school. Available at approximately 450 colleges and universities around the country, early decision is a binding agreement – if accepted, the student agrees to attend that school.
What does Early Decision Show the Admissions Department?
It is very simple – Early decision shows interest and commitment. One of the most important buzzwords for college admissions at the moment is what we call “demonstrated interest.” After your GPA, SAT/ACT Scores, college essays, and course rigor, demonstrated interest may be the deciding factor in acceptance or rejection. Basically, demonstrated interest relates to how many “touches” you have with a particular college such as visits, emails to the department, phone calls, follows on social media, and even down to website clicks. You are trying to make the college believe that you are truly interested in attending, and not just applying as a safety or because your friends applied. They want students to attend their school after acceptance. This metric (percentage of students that end up attending who are accepted) is called yield rate and is part of the US News and World Report Rankings system. In sum, applying early decision is one of the best ways to demonstrate the maximum interest in the college since the agreement is binding.
Further Advantages of Early Decision
If you’ve already done your research and are completely confident that a particular school is your number one choice, early decision offers a number of advantages besides demonstrating interest. First, it provides an accelerated schedule for getting through the time-consuming, emotionally-draining experience of applying to college. Early decision applications are usually due much earlier than other applications, generally as soon as November, and you’ll subsequently find out whether you were accepted to your dream school well before those applying on a conventional timeline.
This sped-up timeline results in another perk of early decision. Since you’ll generally be notified about whether or not you were admitted to your top choice while the regular application season is still on-going, if the answer is “yes,” you can dispense with both the cost and stress of completing any additional applications.
Finally, early decision applicants tend to enjoy a higher acceptance rate compared to their traditional timeline counterparts. Many colleges appreciate being able to start locking in qualified students early on and will take advantage of the fact that, unlike traditional applicants, early decision students won’t decline admission in favor of a different school. Statistics from 2015 suggest that Brown accepted roughly 20% of their early decision applicants and only about 7% of their total applicants, while Cornell accepted nearly 40% of their early decision applicants and only about 16% of their total applicants.
Disadvantages of Early Decision
The biggest downside of early decision is the inherent commitment it implies. Virtually the only acceptable reason for turning down an admissions offer from an early decision school is if the financial aid package makes it impossible to attend. Other downsides to early decision include losing the chance to compare financial aid offers from multiple schools and the impact earlier deadlines may have on your opportunities to improve either your GPA or test scores before applying. It is rare (but not impossible) to receive a scholarship offer applying early decision.
Who Should Seriously Consider Early Decision?
Early decision ultimately represents a great option for those who have already weighed their college options and have a clear first choice that is unlikely to change and who also have solid academics and scores that are also unlikely to improve given an additional semester’s worth of grades and test scores.
Unfortunately, students whose GPA/ACT/SAT scores do not meet the stated criteria for a school (meaning you are below the 25th percentile of incoming freshman) should NOT apply early decision, as you will probably be rejected considering the vast number of more qualified applicants coming down the pipeline of the college admissions process. In that instance you will be better served by making use of more traditional application options.
Your final year of high school is filled with difficult decisions. If you already know which college or university will make you the happiest, getting to work on an early decision application is one way to start simplifying the choices you’ll need to make down the road and reducing the stress of an inherently hectic season of life.
Need help with making this difficult decision? We help students every year carefully manage the application process. To find out more about the wide array of services we provide, give us a call at (516)728-1561.