Should college hopefuls apply early decision or early action?

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When it comes to getting into college, everything helps.

College hopefuls often resort to applying early to their best school to get that edge. By demonstrating a preference for a particular college, studies have shown that an early application can give you an advantage, which comes in handy in the hyper-competitive world of college admissions.

“The cohort of students who are applying for and getting early admission has skyrocketed,” said Robert Franek, editor-in-chief of The Princeton Review and author of “The Best 388 Colleges.”

But for many of these students, applying early may have less to do with where they really want to go and more to do with where they think they have the best chance of getting in, according to Jeff Selingo, the author of “Who Gets in and Why: A Year in of university admissions.

“He’s made it a strategic game,” he said.

What to know about early action versus early decision

Whether it is a non-binding early action or an early decision, which is binding, the deadlines for these types of applications are usually November 1 or 15 for a decision in December, or even earlier for admission. keep going.

“Many people view early action or early decision as interchangeable,” said Eric Greenberg, president of the Greenberg Educational Group, a New York-based consulting firm. However, “early action, in certain cases, makes no difference to admission.”

Early decision, on the other hand, can “help make someone’s chances for admission better.”

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Early applicants tend to be ‘paying customers’

For schools, offering students the option to apply early has clear advantages.

“It’s an important win for the college or university,” Franek said.

For starters, increasing the probability that a student will say yes improves college performance, or the percentage of students who choose to enroll after being admitted, which is an important statistic for schools.

Additionally, getting a head start on freshman class composition helps admissions officers balance enrollment needs with financial aid requests.

Also, “most of those students are less concerned about their financial aid package,” Franek said. “These are paying customers.”

It is a significant victory for the college or university.

Robert Frank

editor-in-chief of The Princeton Review

More schools, especially selective private colleges, are now offering early application, and those institutions are accepting more students before the regular decision deadline, Franek said.

Of the schools on The Princeton Review’s list of best colleges, 200 of the 388 have an early action or early decision option in early November. (Some schools also offer another option, called Early Decision II, which expires in January.)

At those universities, including Emory, Colgate, Swarthmore, Tulane, Middlebury and Washington University in St. Louis, as much as 50% to 60% of the freshman class comes from the early-applicant pool, Franek said, though it could be even more than that.

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At Pitzer College in Claremont, California, for example, 79% of the freshman class of 2020 were admitted early.

Key factors to consider before applying early

More often, it is college-bound seniors with access to expert college counseling who use early decision to improve their chances of getting in.

“This is hard to reconcile because these are students who often get good advice and have the financial means,” Franek said. “Other students may not know about this channel or how to navigate it.”

But despite the possibility of improving your chances of acceptance, there are also other factors to consider, especially when it comes to financial aid.

Now that cost is the No. 1 factor in choosing a college for many people, it’s the early bird who benefits, because some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis or from programs with limited funds. The sooner families apply, the better chance they have of being in line for that help, according to Rick Castellano, a spokesman for Sallie Mae.

Why the best time to apply for college financial aid is now

“If someone is asking for an early decision or early action and they come in, there’s more money available at that point in the calendar,” Greenberg said. “There’s less and less money as you go.”

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However, committing to just one institution would miss out on comparing different packages from other schools, although some colleges may let you off the hook if their early acceptance offer doesn’t meet your needs. (Typically, a “better” offer includes more grant and scholarship money and fewer loans.)

Many students are not ready to make that commitment.

Eric Greenberg

president of the Greenberg Educational Group

Applying early also means students have less time to work on their application, compare different types of colleges, visit campuses, and prepare for and take standardized tests.

“We strongly recommend that if a student is going to apply for an early decision, they visit the campus once or twice, even stay overnight to get the full vibe,” Greenberg said.

Still, students shouldn’t feel pressured if they haven’t zeroed in on one of the best options, he added. “A lot of students aren’t ready to make that commitment.”

Some high school seniors might benefit from spending more time choosing a school, Selingo also advised.

That’s especially true “if you haven’t had a chance to visit college campuses” or if money is a concern and “comparing financial aid offers is really important.” So it may be better to apply the regular decision, she said.

“A student should wait if they need more time to think about the best option,” Selingo said.

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