Preparing for College

Early Decision Apps Increase

In this increasingly complicated world of competitive college admissions, the role of Early Decision continues to be debated and strategized. Schools have alternated between ED (not to be confused with the reason for Viagra) and EA (Early Action), trying to find the best application, so to speak, for those high school seniors who know where their first-choice school lies.

If you want to sample some of the angst that parents and students experience every fall when trying to decide whether or not to make a firm commitment to ED, go with the more flexible option of EA, or fall back on the old standby of RD (Regular Decision), search the College Confidential discussion forum for these three terms. Here's a sample of ED and EA discussion.

While the debates rage on, currently, it looks like ED is experiencing a surge in popularity, as evidenced by an interesting article by in Inside Higher Education by Scott Jaschik. Here are a few highlights:

You don't have to go back very far -- 2006, in fact -- to find a time when it looked like the early admissions trend might be reversed. In the years prior, many admissions experts had worried about elite colleges admitting an increasingly large share of their classes through early programs, many of which require students not only to apply early, but to commit to enrolling if admitted.

Then in 2006, first Harvard University, and then Princeton University and the University of Virginia, announced that they were doing away with early admissions -- as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Delaware had done a few years prior.

At the competitive colleges where early admissions is most often a factor, many that didn't eliminate the practice said that they agreed that too much pressure was associated with early applications, and that it was time to dial it back. Last year, many experts assumed that the economic uncertainty in which families found themselves would discourage early applications and that they might drop. Why commit yourself to a college before knowing what kind of aid package you might land elsewhere? But early decision applications went up at many institutions . . .

. . . Encouraging the trend of more early applications, both college and high school counselors said, was the strategy of many colleges -- even those without early decision -- to encourage students to apply earlier in the year, thus making it more of the norm for high school seniors to be applying in early fall, not in December.

Consider some of these figures so far from institutions whose deadlines for early admissions have passed.

At Duke University, the number of early decision applications is up 32 percent this year. At George Washington University, early applications are up 24 percent (and 70 percent over two years). At Grinnell College, numbers are projected to be up by 10 percent, following a similar increase the year before. Stanford University is up 4 percent. New York University is up 5 percent. Smith College is up 6 percent. Dartmouth College is up 3 percent. Pomona College is up 2 percent . . .

. . . In terms of a national picture, data from the Common Application also suggest an increase is in the works. The Common Application reports a 22 percent increase, as of November 1, in the number of early applications (some of them requiring a commitment to enroll and others not). That's 185,460 applications, a figure that will rise as other early deadlines are reached. There has also been an increase in the number of Common Application colleges receiving at least one early application -- to 292 institutions, up from 265 last year . . .

. . . The advantage of early admissions for the applicant is a senior year without as much stress, and many counselors applaud the option for those high schoolers who have a clear sense of direction and who have had time to investigate options. Colleges benefit from binding early admissions programs because they can fill a portion of their classes without worrying about whether admitted applicants will accept the offers. A survey by the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that 30.8 percent of private colleges either admitted more students through early admissions this year or plan to do so next year . . .

. . . Seth Allen, dean of admission and financial aid at Grinnell, said that based on his time on the road at high schools this fall, many colleges "have clearly stepped up their outreach efforts earlier in the admission cycle, partly for competitive reasons and partly for survival reasons." Many more colleges "employ some form of a quick application which shortens the application requirements and promises a quick decision turnaround. An environment is developing which is encouraging or pressuring students to apply early," he said.

"One counselor I met this fall put it well -- she said it takes a strong-willed student at a school where the majority of the senior class is either applying early decision, early action, rolling decision, or with a quick application to not feel pressure to also submit an early application of some type."

As a result, Allen said he expects early applications of all sorts to continue to rise, based on peers reinforcing the messages from colleges. "The logic has flipped. It's no longer a question of why but of why not? In this kind of evolving environment peer influence is having a larger impact on students' decision to apply early, even early decision, than we've seen in the past."

What's a high school senior to do, then? Moreover, what's a parent to do? Here's an example of one parent's dilemma from the College Confidential discussion forum:

Seeking inputs on early strategy

For financial reason, we would like DS to apply SCEA at Stanford. With two family members doing great at the school might add a point or two for him. The downside is that it is a restricted EA therefore he will not be able apply any other school early. DS visited Penn and likes it a lot. Through research, he is also developing a strong interest in Univ. of Chicago. We will make a trip to the windy city soon.

So, what are some pros and cons in plan 1) Penn ED and Chicago EA, or 2) Stanford SCEA? We understand the ED is binding and we do need FA. We have reviewed the FA policy of Penn and think we should be able to handle it with loans.

DS has developed a well balanced school list. He consulted me on this aspect of the plan and I don't have a good answer. While I am fairly well informed on most part of the college application process, I really know little on early

I am writing this post with great hesitant, because I really need help but very afraid of getting some lectures. Please help. Thank you.

So, if you're an EDer or EAer, your decision date is right around the corner. I'd like to know your thoughts about how you made your choice among the various application options out there. Was it as hard as it seems?
Don't forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.