Using Early Admissions Programs for College Application Success

College admissions season is in full swing now that we’re in the fall.  This can be one of the most stressful times for a high school student as well as for hopeful parents who want to see their kids go to great colleges and universities.  To make matters worse, the admissions process and landscape can be very tough to navigate and students and parents are not always fully-informed of all the options and strategies available to them to give students an edge in the admissions process.  One especially confusing aspect is early admissions programs.

While regular admissions deadlines for most schools are in January and February of senior year, nearly all colleges allow applicants to submit early applications in November or December.  Often, the acceptance rates for early admissions are significantly higher than in the regular pool.  There are a number of reasons this happens.  Applicants who apply early are usually better qualified applicants since they have to be ahead of their classmates to complete their applications early and complete all their school research ahead of time; this signals to the school that they may be a better applicant.

Schools care about something called “yield”, which is the percentage of accepted students who ultimately matriculate to the school.  The higher the yield, the more attractive and a competitive a school is, and the higher they get ranked on national school rankings like US News and World report.  As a result, early decision and early action applicants signal that they are particularly interested in a school and, if accepted, would be more likely to accept their offer of admission.   For example, the regular acceptance rate at Columbia University is around 7-10%.  But their early decision acceptance rate is just over 20%, nearly double to triple the chances of admission!

Using early admissions to increase the chances of getting into a top college is a very attractive option, however students and parents should know how all the different types of early admissions programs work and devise a strategy to combine different admissions types to maximize the chances of admission.  Here are some of the different programs available:

Early Decision

In Early Decision, the applicant is required to accept the offer of admission if the school accepts their early decision application.  Students are not allowed to apply to any other schools Early Decision—you must pick ONE and only one school to apply early decision to.

Restrictive Early-Action

Early action is non-binding, meaning that students who are accepted are not necessarily required to matriculate.  While most talk about Early Action in general, there are actually two types of early action: restrictive and non-restrictive.  Under restrictive early-action, you are not allowed to apply to any school under Early Decision.  However, you can apply to other schools via restrictive or non-restrictive Early Action.  In short:  You can’t mix Early Decision and restrictive Early Action.

Non-restrictive Early Action

Non-restrictive Early Action allows students to combine an Early Decision school along with a number of Early Action schools.  If a student wants to apply Early Decision to a school, all other early applications MUST be of the non-restrictive Early Action type.

Strategy for Early Admissions

Having a good strategy for early admissions for a number of schools can significantly increase the student’s chances of success.  By combining early action and early decision, or restrictive/non-restrictive early action applications, students can form a “portfolio” of applications that more likely guarantees admission into at least of one their top-choice schools.  However, the student must do his or her homework on the desired schools ahead of time since you cannot back out of an early decision acceptance.

Results From Early Admissions Applications

One of three things can happen when an applicant uses an early admissions program:  accepted, deferred and denied.  An “accept” is simple:  you’re in!  So pat yourself on the back and celebrate!  If it was an Early Decision application, then you must accept the offer of admission and withdraw your applications to the other schools.  In the case of early action, you may choose to wait to hear from other schools and decide on the best offer of admission after taking into account any scholarships or grants that come with the acceptance package.  Students can also simply be denied admission, in which case the decision is final and the school has indicated that they were not able to offer the student a place in the inbound freshman class.

Finally, if the admissions committee is undecided on the applicant, they may defer them to be considered and evaluated during the regular admissions round.  Maybe the student was very close to the cut but ultimately was beat out by a few more qualified students and the school would like to get a picture of the rest of the applications before making a decision about the early action/decision student.  There may be things that a deferred student can do during the time up to the regular admissions deadline to boost their chances, but that is a completely separate article in itself…

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