Saturday, October 11, 2008

Should I Apply to College Early

My son's college advisor is encouraging him to apply early to colleges. Unfortunately he seems to forget that my son is a foreigner and some of the colleges he might find most appealing, place restrictions on those who can apply early. For example MIT's website states:

"Please note that MIT's Early Action program is available only to citizens and permanent residents of the United States."

On the other hand there are some that welcome early applications from internationals, but those schools just may not be your first choice. At Collegeconfidential, one student from Malaysia whose first choice is actually MIT is contemplating applying early to Stanford. The feedback from readers is encouraging with a "what have you got to lose" mindset. There is more to it however as there is authority for the view based on research highlighted in the book, The Early Admissions Game, that applying early actually increases your chances for admission and apparently this is especially so for African Americans.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling sets out the elements of the various application plans which I will paraphrase.

Early Decision

Student applies early to a college and commits to attending that college if accepted. Such a commitment is binding and can only be escaped from if the student can demonstrate financial hardship in meeting the cost of attendance. The perception tends to be that this is an option for the wealthy who wish declare their desire to attend their dream school. The early decision application deadline is usually early November and decision letters are sent out by mid-December. Remember if you are accepted you are going to that college. The student usually therefore cannot apply early to another college. Eg. Vassar's website says "Students may have only one Early Decision application pending at any time. "

Restrictive Early Action

Student applies early to a college but is not bound to attend that college if accepted. In most cases the early decision application deadline is around November 1 and decision letters are sent out by mid-December. Student cannot apply early to another college. This is the case at Yale and Stanford. Student has until May 1 to decide on acceptance

Early Action

Student applies early to a college but is not bound to attend that college if accepted. In most cases the early decision application deadline is around November 1 and decision letters are sent out by mid-December. Student has until May 1 to decide on acceptance. Student can apply to other schools for early action or regular decision with no restrictions.

Regular Decision

Student applies usually to a college sometime in January and has until May 1 to indicate acceptance.

Here is a neat little table from the NACAC which details the plans. Click to make larger.



One of the determining factors which influences whether kids apply early is financial aid. Remember the earlier reference to wealthy kids applying for early decision? In applying for early decision you are saying to the school, that out of all the other schools this is the school that I wish to attend. Some persons are of the opinion that there is therefore no need for the school to sweeten the pot with great aid offers for these early decision applicants. The school will only give you an estimated amount as to your financial aid offer, then later when the full package finally comes in you may find it inadequate. What do you do as you have already accepted. Indeed in applying early decision you have signed a contract. Others point out that you won't know until much later when other deadlines pass as to the amount of aid you will be awarded. Still others say, the schools use a formula that will be applicable whether you apply early or regular. Remember if the package does not truly meet your needs you can opt out of the contract, but you would have needed to have applied to other schools by their deadline too. This requires careful planning, monitoring and timing. Schools communicate with each other.

My view: if you want to apply early the best option is early action. Single choice early action or restrictive early action is not so bad either as you can still send in your regular decision applications knowing you haven't committed to attending another school.

As for internationals, they should read the information on the schools' websites carefully to see whether or not they qualify to apply early.

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