I've always maintained that colleges hold most of the cards in the admissions poker game. If you're a high school senior applying to a so-called "elite," "top-tier," or plain old "prestigious" school, then be prepared to enter a Wal-Mart Super Center-sized seller's market. You badly want what these colleges are selling, and they know it. Thus, they have interesting ways to persuade you to commit to enrolling. That is, if you're good enough.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) has released a report documenting one of the most common of these enrollment "incentives": Early Decision (ED). For those of you who don't know what ED is (no, I'm not talking about the reason we see so many Viagra and Cialis ads on TV and in our email inboxes), I'll explain. Early Decision is a college application option whereby high school seniors complete their application process and submit all the appropriate paperwork by early-to-mid-November. Then, an admission decision is delivered in December, before Christmas, but usually earlier in that month. If the decision is "accepted," then the applicant is committed to enroll (they have signed a document stating that they will enroll if accepted). There are other possible outcomes: Deferred (a final decision on acceptance will be issued in the spring) or Denied ("sorry, you're history here"). For those deferred, there's yet another possible outcome in the spring: the wait list ("maybe we'll let you in, but, then again, maybe not"). Wait lists are collegiate purgatory, but that's a topic for another post.