The arrival of autumn brings not only cooler weather, but also early application deadlines for seniors who have a firm idea of which post-secondary institution they want to attend. More than 450 universities offer early decision or early action plans to students who are willing to commit to or have a firm interest in a school. While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the college application process, it is more important than ever to set a plan that will help you meet your goals.
The most important aspect of the process is understanding the difference between the two types of applications.
Early decision applications target students who are certain they want to attend one particular university. Students who apply are bound to attend that school if they are accepted (and the financial aid package meets their family’s needs) and will usually receive notification of their application status in December. Students should only apply for one school via early decision.
Early actions applications let students know they are accepted; however, it is a non-binding decision, and the student can elect to attend a different university. Students who apply for an early action decision can expect an answer in January or sometimes as late as February.
Not all universities offer both early decision and early action application. Some choose to offer only one form of early application. Check directly with the potential school’s website or admissions counselor for the most accurate information.
Benefits of applying early include less stress by not having to wait as long for a decision and saved time and expenses of submitting multiple applications. Students also have more time to prepare for college or reassess their options if they’re not accepted.
In light of the pandemic, students also will need to research if or how their potential schools have adjusted their standardized testing policies as part of their admissions requirements. Some schools no longer require ACT or SAT scores, meaning grades, personal essays, and extracurriculars could weigh more heavily in the admissions decision process.
Who Should Not Apply Early?
Students want to clearly qualify for their desired university with grades, class strength, SAT or ACT exam scores, and extracurricular activities. If a student doesn’t have a strong record of academic achievements, early application would not make sense. Another year of improved performance can make the difference between an acceptance letter or a rejection.
Also, a student needs to be sure that they really want to attend their early application school. A well-researched university search will inform students and help them identify their school of choice. However, if students are still searching for a school that would be a perfect fit, then early applications may not make sense.
Finally, students that want to seek out the best financial aid package would likely benefit from a more competitive college search. Weighing different aid packages can make all the difference in the world when it comes to future financial liabilities. Early decision schools, by nature of the application, do not allow students to compare financial aid awards, while early action schools may provide more flexibility.
With these caveats in mind, if a student feels certain about their school of choice, has a strong academic and personal background for their application, and can afford a little leeway with their financial aid package, then early application is a great choice. In a world full of uncertainties, arriving at a decision regarding plans post-high school can provide students the security and stability that may be missing right now. Early decision and early action applications usually are due in November, so make sure your students are getting their applications ready!
What are your student’s college application plans?
This article is a revised version of from a previous Envision by WorldStrides publication.