Jill Haley: Applying early to college
If it seems that applying to college begins much earlier than it used to, you are right. Not only have the financial aid applications moved to an earlier date (from January of the senior year to the previous October), many colleges have added early application submission dates.
For many students, applying early in the semester is appealing because they want to get it over with and concentrate on their senior classes and finals. To apply early you must prepare early, researching colleges and finishing admissions testing.
Hearing back of an acceptance early in the senior year can be a confidence booster and relieve some of the pressure of wondering if they will get in anywhere.
Colleges offer different types of early application options besides the regular decision application. These options include Early Decision (ED) or Early Action (EA) and are primarily used at private colleges. There is a significant difference between the two options: Early Decision requires that the applicant agree to attend the following year and must withdraw all other applications if accepted.
When you apply Early Decision, you sign a binding agreement guaranteeing that you will enroll in that college. Applying Early Decision can demonstrate to colleges that you have a real interest in attending, which can increase your chances of acceptance. Rather than offering spots to students who might or might not attend, colleges can be sure that Early Decision applicants will enroll. For example, last year, Barnard College filled almost half of their freshman class with early applicants. California’s Claremont McKenna had a 31 percent acceptance rate for Early Decision students, versus 7 percent for regular decision.
Early Action is a non-binding application, and allows students to notify the college by May 1 if they will attend. There is no penalty if you decide to attend another college. Early Action admittance rates are much lower than Early Decision rates.
With both, you apply earlier than the regular deadline (usually in October or November of senior year) and are notified of acceptance by Christmas. Sounds great? Well, let’s take a look at the disadvantages of applying early.
An important factor to consider is that colleges often admit their top-notch students through Early Action/Decision. This can be a bit of a risk to applicants because the applicant pool can be quite competitive. Also, students will not be able to compare financial aid offers between colleges in a binding application.
Applying early puts pressure on teachers and counselors who must rush to get their recommendations done early as well. My advice for students who decide to apply early is to notify teachers at the end of their junior year.
Other possible disadvantages of early applications are that colleges may not be able to see your fall Scholastic Aptitude and/or American College Testing scores or the first semester grades of your senior year before making the decision to admit you. If you are a student who is banking on higher test scores in the fall or want colleges to see your senior year grade point average, applying early may not be your best option.
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