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By Elizabeth LaScala

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About this blog: I post articles to offer timely and substantive college admission guidance on important topics and issues. Originally from New York, I have a B.S. from Hunter College in NYC and advanced professional degrees from the University of...  (More)

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Early Applications Surge in College Admission

Uploaded: Dec 6, 2009
This is the first in a six-week series of blogs about applying to college by admission advisor Elizabeth LaScala and Teen Wire high school senior Daniel Morizono – showing both sides of the coin, so to speak. Topics will cover everything from pressures to apply early, to parental involvement, to dealing with acceptance, rejection and the hated wait-list option.

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A College Advisor's Perspective

This year all signs point to a rise in early applications to colleges. While many colleges are still counting (early application deadlines vary), many are reporting sharp increases. To better understand this phenomenon, it is important to know the definitions of two early options.

Early Decision (ED) is a binding agreement between the college and the applicant. You may only use ED for one school. If accepted, you are obligated to attend, as long as the school offers you a satisfactory financial aid package. Any applications to other colleges must be formally withdrawn. If your ED school denies or defers your application to the regular admission cycle, you are free to apply to other colleges to meet their regular admission deadlines as well as to continue with your college applications that are already in progress.

Early Action (EA) gives the student an early response without a binding commitment. Students accepted through EA enjoy the benefit of knowing that they have been accepted by one or more of the schools on their list, but they can wait until the spring to decide what school to attend. The student is also free to apply to other schools using the regular admission cycle and make a decision once all admission offers and financial aid awards are on the table.

Early Decision is the option that requires most careful scrutiny because it is binding. ED offers some clear advantages to both the college and the student. The college gets a head start assembling a fall freshman class. Students admitted under ED are virtually certain to enroll. In college admissions jargon, the "yield" from early decision applicants is 100%. This permits schools to better manage enrollment and, from a competitive standpoint, gives colleges the opportunity to admit desirable students who might have attended rival institutions.

The advantages of Early Decision to students include ending the uncertainty of the college admissions process so they can relax and enjoy the rest of their senior year. Also, it is generally believed that applying ED increases chances of admission. Historically, the acceptance rate for ED applicants is higher than the rate for regular admissions.

There are also downsides to Early Decision. First and foremost, ED removes the opportunity to compare financial aid offers from several schools, or negotiate for a better package between schools. This makes ED a good business decision for the college, but not necessarily for the student. The family may feel pressured to accept an offer that is not as affordable as that from another school which could provide the student a similarly good education.

There are many theories about why colleges are experiencing a rise in early applications, but each seems tied to economic uncertainty on either the college or student side of the equation. Here are some of the most credible from my perspective:

This year private colleges stepped up outreach efforts to attract students and many encouraged early applications in an attempt to ensure a full freshman class for fall 2010.
Public universities have raised fees and are predicting increased rejection rates so students are looking at private college options
Families want more information sooner for planning purposes
Amidst all the economic uncertainties and increased competition in admissions, students are hedging their bets and applying to more schools in general; logically an increase in all applications would translate into an increase in early applications.

How to Decide if Early Decision Is a Good Decision for You?

Start early in your high school years. Juniors and even sophomores can begin to research and visit colleges and learn about early options and deadlines.
If you plan to apply Early Decision, be totally confident that your first choice school is right for you.
Assess your academic and extracurricular profile, keeping in mind that early acceptance is a good choice for students who would be competitive for the regular admission cycle. Applications from less qualified students are likely to be rejected.
Consider if including your fall semester grades would boost chances for admission.
Talk with your family about the importance of comparing financial aid offers.
Make certain you have parental support and buy-in from your high school counselor to submit a strong application by the early deadline.

A Student's Perspective

I have also noticed a rise in early decision applications in my own practice. More students are asking whether they should apply early and many are experiencing pressure to choose early options. The Danville Express and San Ramon Express enjoy the benefit of a teen writer, Daniel Morizono, who is a senior in high school. Daniel will share his views on early acceptance options. Don't miss the release of his blog this week!

Elizabeth LaScala, Ph.D. is an educational consultant and certified college admissions advisor. Her goal is to help students and their families understand the admissions process, research college and career options, create a customized college list and submit a strong and cohesive application. Dr. LaScala is a member of NACAC, WACAC, and HECA and earned a certification in College Admissions and Career Planning from University of California at Berkeley. Contact her at (925) 891-4491 or elizabeth@doingcollege.com.

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