Lesson Four: I Like You. Do You Like Me?—Check Yes or No: The Case for Applying Early


This is the final post in our four-part series deconstructing highly selective college admissions. Going to miss this? Don’t worry, we’ll continue to cover important current topics in our weekly blog, so stay tuned! Yesterday, I settled in to watch a webinar featuring directors and deans of admission from three highly selective Boston-area universities—Tufts, Boston University and Northeastern. I contemplated whether I had time for a snack. As I silently debated whether to opt for the health-conscious organic carrots or raid my leftover stash of Halloween candy hidden deep in my desk drawer, the moderator posed the question. The question that every counselor, high school student and parent has been wondering for the past several months given the roller coaster that was selective college admissions this cycle. The question was a two-parter: How many applications did you receive and what was your admit rate? I began furiously typing, completely forgetting about the Reeses cups beckoning me from below. One-by-one each admissions person answered: 34% increase for Tufts with an 11% overall admit rate, 24% increase for Boston University with an 18% overall admit rate, and 17% increase for Northeastern with an 18% overall admit rate. As they happily relayed their “good”news, I wondered how to best share this "not so great" news with my families. So, how does a student increase their chance of admission when there are so many applicants and such a limited number of places? Apply early, more specifically, apply Early Decision (if the school offers it). Last week’s blog post was all about expressing demonstrated interest to colleges. If you missed it, I suggest you read it now, however, the best way to demonstrate interest is to apply early. Before we review the data, let’s look at the different types of early applications:

  • Early Action (EA): A non-binding process (meaning if admitted, you don’t have to enroll)

  • Restrictive Early Action (REA) or Single Choice Early Action (SCEA): Used by some of the most selective colleges like Harvard and Stanford. The decision is not binding, but you are restricted from applying to other binding programs. If applying to a school with a policy like this, make sure you read it closely.

  • Early Decision (ED): Used by many private universities and a few publics. This is a binding agreement and you can only apply to one ED college. If admitted, you must withdraw all your applications to other schools because you’re going here!

Now, let’s look at some data for the Freshman Class of 2021. Notice the big difference between the ED admit rates and overall admit rates for many on the list! *SOURCE: College Kickstart **Non-Georgia Admit rate Regardless of the type of early application plan, your chances of being admitted are almost always significantly greater when you apply early. Note: there are a few exceptions like MIT and Georgetown who typically admit equal numbers from their early and regular pools.

While a binding application plan like Early Decision isn’t for everyone, if you have a favorite school with a low admission rate and you can afford the cost without needing to compare financial aid offers, your sure-fire way to express interest and best chance of being admitted is to apply Early Decision. For your other schools, you’ll also want to aim for early deadlines whenever possible. So research possible colleges, visit campuses (many are opening up for in-person visits this summer) and start your applications and essays this summer. You’ll feel amazing when you return to school this fall having completed your applications and knowing that you've given yourself the best chance of admission. And when you’re done submitting, I’ll break out my hidden stash of Reeses to celebrate with you!

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