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About this blog: I post articles to offer timely and substantive college admission guidance on important topics and issues. Originally from New York, I have a B.S. from Hunter College in NYC and advanced professional degrees from the University of...  (More)

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Are Early College Applications Right for Me?

Uploaded: Jan 9, 2012
Hi Dr. LaScala,

I am a junior at San Ramon High and I want to ask you about early admission. It seems confusing, but next year I know I will need to decide if this is right for me.


Dear Stephanie,

Next fall many students who are juniors this year will be asking this same question. So you are smart to get a handle on the basics of early admissions now. Hundreds of colleges and universities welcome early applicants. These schools set application deadlines typically between November 1 and December 1st and offer a quick response, usually by mid-December. So how do you know if an early option is right for you? The first step is to understand the differences between the two major early admission plans.

Early decision is a binding agreement between the college and applicant. You may only use early decision for one school. If accepted, you are obligated to attend, if the school offers you a satisfactory financial aid package. The college can also deny your application or defer it to the regular admissions cycle. If denial or deferment occurs, you can apply to other colleges to meet their regular admission deadlines.

Early decision programs have become more popular over the past decade. There are some clear advantages to both the college and the student. The college gets a head start assembling a fall freshman class, since students admitted under early decision are certain to enroll. In college admission language, the "yield" from the early decision pool of accepted applicants is 100%. This permits schools to more efficiently manage enrollment and, from a competitive standpoint, gives the college the opportunity to admit desirable students who might have attended rival institutions.

The advantages to students include ending the uncertainty of the college admissions process early so they can relax and enjoy their senior year. Also, applying early decision can sometimes increase your chances of admission. Historically, the acceptance rate for early decision applicants is higher than the rate for regular admissions. This past cycle, there have been arguments on both sides of this position. A great deal depends on the student's profile and the college's admission priorities for that cycle.

The downside of early decision programs is that students who are accepted are limited in their financial aid options. Early decision removes the opportunity to compare financial aid offers from several schools, or negotiate for a better package between schools. This makes early decision a good business decision for the college, but not necessarily for the student. The family may feel pressured to accept an offer that is not as affordable as that from another school which could provide the student a similarly good education.

Early decision is one of the most hotly debated topics in college admissions. Critics point out that early decision is increasingly being used as an admissions strategy. They note that early decision favors students who do not need financial assistance and who have access to strong parental and counselor support systems that permit identification of a first choice school and facilitate an efficient assembly of all materials necessary to meet early application deadlines. Students with limited financial means, and those who attend poorly funded and overcrowded public schools, do not enjoy these advantages. Due to these concerns as well as because the sheer number of early applicants has increased dramatically, some schools are reducing the number of students admitted through the early cycle or have eliminated these programs entirely.

In contrast, early action gives the student an early response without a binding commitment. Students accepted through early action enjoy the benefit of knowing that they have been accepted by one or more of the schools on their list, but they can wait until the spring to decide what school to attend. The student is also free to apply to other schools using the regular admission cycle and make a decision once all admission offers and financial aid awards are on the table. A few early action schools do place restrictions. The most restrictive is "single choice early action". Under this program a student may not apply early decision or early action to any other school. Schools can and do change their policies unexpectedly, so be sure to obtain the most current policy information.

Here are a few guidelines to help you decide if an early acceptance option is right for you:

? Start early! Juniors and even sophomores can begin to research and visit colleges during school breaks and learn about early options and deadlines. Hasty decisions made in your senior year may lead to disappointment.
? If you choose early decision which is binding, you must be totally confident that your first choice school is right for you.
? Assess your academic and extracurricular profile; bear in mind that early acceptance is a good choice for students who would be competitive applicants for regular admissions.
? Be certain that you do not need your fall semester grades to boost chances for admission.
? Talk with your parents about the importance of maintaining the ability to compare financial aid offers.
? Make certain you have the support from your parents and high school counselor to submit a strong, cohesive application by the early deadline.

Elizabeth LaScala, Ph.D. is an independent college admissions advisor located in Lafayette, California. Her goal is to help students and their families understand the college admissions process, research college and career options, create a college list and prepare a strong, organized and cohesive application. Dr. LaScala is a member of NACAC, WACAC, and HECA and earned a certification in College Admissions and Career Planning from University of California at Berkeley. Visit or call(925) 891-4491 or write

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