Four years ago both Harvard and Princeton canceled their early admission programs fearing that the practice favored wealthy students with superior college counseling and hoping that other colleges and universities across the country would follow suit. They didn’t. Early admission has continued to grow, and this past year both elite schools reinstated their early action programs, signaling that the practice is here to stay. Now, as the percentage of applicants accepted through these programs climbs ever higher, it is more important than ever that students and parents understand the terms and conditions of their various iterations: from early action, to single-choice early action, to early decision, to early decision II. Wading through the procedures and benefits of the various application processes can be a daunting task, but knowing the key facts of each early admission procedure is a great place to start.
Early Action (EA)
Early action is the least restrictive of the early application programs. It is non-binding, meaning that students are not compelled to attend if accepted. Students can therefore apply to several different schools at one time and have until the spring to decide whether or not to attend. Application deadlines usually fall in November or early December and students are notified of the school’s decision within 1-2 months, whether accepted, rejected, or deferred to the regular admissions round. Though early action acceptance rates are not as statistically favorable as early decision rates, they do tend to be higher than most school’s regular application rates. Students may also find that some colleges are able to offer more generous financial aid packages earlier on in the admission process when funding is more abundant.
Single-Choice Early Action
Like early action, single-choice early action is also non-binding, however, these colleges and universities preclude you from applying to other schools during the early application process. Notable single-choice early action programs include Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale. Specific terms and conditions may vary between these programs, however, so make sure to read the fine print of each school’s application carefully.
Early decision is the most restrictive of the early admission processes because it is binding. Students may only submit one early decision application and must sign an agreement stating that they will enroll if accepted, withdrawing all other applications at that time. Most early decision deadlines fall on November 15th and schools typically notify students whether they are accepted, rejected, or deferred on or around December 15th.
For many schools, the acceptance rate for early decision is significantly higher than for their regular application round. For example, last year Columbia accepted 20% of early decision applicants, compared to 6% of regular applicants, Cornell accepted 35% of ED applicants and only 16% in the regular round, and Brown accepted 20% ED, while only 7% of regular applicants. In a few rare instances, however, early decision does not offer any discernable advantage in the application process. Occidental College, for instance, most recently accepted 42% of regular applicants but only 39% of early decision applicants. While statistics like Occidental’s are out of the ordinary, if uncertain about the benefits of ED at a particular school, consider consulting the admissions office for their most recent admission rates in order to discern if early decision at that particular school is right for you.
The most important thing to keep in mind about early decision is that once accepted a student will not be able to consider any other schools. Nor will they be able to compare financial aid packages, though most early admission schools do offer generous need-based financial aid and many elite colleges guarantee to meet 100% of demonstrated financial need. Critics of the early decision system also point out that the practice speeds up an already strenuous application process, forcing students to make a premature decision about their future in order to gain a slight advantage in the admissions process. Students should think very carefully about whether or not a college or university is right for them before submitting an early decision application.
Early Decision II
Recently some schools have begun adding a second round of early decision with applications due in January, following the success of program at schools like George Washington University. ED II allows those students who are not ready to submit applications in November, or those who were rejected or deferred in the first round of early decision, to gain some of the statistical advantages of early decision by applying prior to the regular decision round. Just like November early decision, students must commit to a binding agreement to enroll if accepted.
With this basic understanding of the various early admission processes, it is important to research the specific application procedures of each school of interest in order to determine which type of application makes the most sense for you.
For more statistical information on early admission rates, visit the New York Times blog, “The Choice:” http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/20/2012-early-admission/