Early Admissions

1 Dec

Just when I thought I had gotten a handle on the college search and admissions process, early admissions has reared up to puncture my heretofore Zen-like well-being.

December is the time of year when high school seniors who have applied for early admission to their first choice colleges anxiously wait to hear about their application.  In two weeks, there will either be much rejoicing or gnashing of teeth in these homes.

A quick primer on early admissions: students can apply early, usually by November, and colleges will decide by mid-December whether to admit or deny.  Many early admissions programs are “binding early decision” which requires the student to commit to attending the institution if accepted.  Some schools have “non-binding early action” programs that allow students to apply to other schools.

Just to confuse things further, there are variations, like single choice early action (non-binding but a student may only apply to one school) and rolling admissions (applications are reviewed as they come in until the class fills up).  Most schools have one round of early admissions but some schools like Tufts University, Hamilton College and Connecticut College offer two rounds of early decision.  If your head is not spinning yet, don’t worry, it will by the end of this post.

There are advantages to applying early, especially if a student is convinced that a particular school is the top choice.  If admitted by mid-December, that student is done with the college application process; no more applications to fill out, no more waiting until spring to hear.

Another advantage is that the chances of being admitted are higher.  The National Association for College Admission Counseling confirmed this recently in a report: nearly three out of four early admissions applicants last year were admitted as compared with just over half who applied to the same colleges in the regular decision process.  According to the colleges this is because candidates in the early admissions pool are stronger.

Colleges like early admissions, particularly binding early decision, because it gives them a higher enrollment yield and a lock on the most competitive candidates.  At an information session we attended, the University of Pennsylvania admissions officer said that the University admits half its freshman class through early decision.

Binding early decision programs have come under fire from critics who assert that it favors students from wealthier backgrounds who do not need to compare financial aid offers.  At a financial aid workshop I attended, they advised against applying early for exactly that reason.  But the popularity of these programs continues to grow as the number of students applying early has exploded. Moreover, universities that did away with early admissions are reconsidering their decisions, like Harvard University, or have re-introduced them, like the University of Virginia.

If all this weren’t complicated enough, at our high school, many seniors apply early. Anecdotally, it seems that every senior that my daughter knows is applying early, and every parent of a senior that I know tells me their child is applying early.  So I wonder about this trend towards early admission, whether this creates peer pressure and of course, how this will affect my daughter and her decision-making.  I imagine it would be tough to have to wait until the spring to find out where you’ll be going to college if many of your friends will already know by mid-December.

There’s no way to know until next year and I’m just taking it one day at a time.  But I’m finding that when it comes to college admissions, there’s always something new to think about.

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