Many students think that they HAVE to apply Early Decision (ED) or Early Action (EA) to get a leg up on the competition. While many colleges admit a greater proportion of applicants ED/EA than during the regular decision application window, it is a myth that it is always “easier” or somehow better to go the ED route.
Here are some scenarios when applying Regular Decision makes sense:
The most important college to visit is your safety school
These schools are the most likely to use “demonstrated interest” in their thinking about who to admit. Schools need to pay attention to who will accept their offer, because the percentage who accept (the “yield” rate) is often used in statistics that demonstrate the school’s competitiveness, and it is used in school rankings. Schools would prefer to admit students who are likely to attend. They hate to turn away great applicants who might boost their average test scores or GPAs, but they also hate to hurt their yield. So, they look for clues of interest. A campus visit is one of the strongest signals students can send to a school that they are serious candidates.
Use time throughout the fall to get to campus. Tours and information sessions are usually much less crowded after the early fall so you get more personal attention. Harvard will not care that you loved your visit (and it won’t affect their decisions), but many schools that are within reach may notice that you are enthusiastic about what they offer.
You need to raise your GPA
If your grades have not been consistent over the years, or if there were medical or other reasons your academic record is not where you think it could be, it may be best to submit January 1. Use the fall term to bring it up so you can make the argument that you are now hitting your stride and your grades are showing improvement.
You can raise your test scores
The last test date typically used in Early Decision is October. Scores from any other sitting are unlikely to make it to the admissions office in time. If there’s a reasonable chance that with a bit more maturity, and extra preparation, you could improve your scores, then register for another test date, and hold off on applying early.
You don’t have a clear favorite school
Many students do not have well researched, well-reasoned matches for their first choice college, yet many kids go ahead and submit early, hoping they can just beat the odds and avoid some stress. But colleges will see through this strategy! Many schools ask you to tell them why you want to attend, and what in particular you want to do there. It’s hard to have a good answer if you’re not really sure. Take more time to do the research and to decide which school really could be a good fit, and you’re much more likely to come across convincingly in the application.
If there’s any chance of getting financial aid, you’re better off applying Regular Decision. Many schools will send a financial aid offer along with the admissions letter but if you really need aid, it is better to have multiple offers to compare your options. Some students are able to petition successfully for better offers at their dream school when they can show that other schools are interested in them.
Don’t throw in an early application just because everyone else is doing it. Take the time to make your application the best it can be! For more application tips, click here.
This former Ivy League admissions officer is one of AdmissionsCheckup’s 60 former admissions officers who evaluate applications before they are submitted. For more information, call 203-762-6500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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