Should I Apply Early Action Despite a Low ACT Score?
Question: I'm applying to UMass Amherst and I called Admissions to ask about the benefits/risks of applying Early Action (non binding) vs. Regular Decision The counselor was very vague and said "I don't know because I haven't seen the student pool yet."
I have good grades and great extracurriculars, but my ACT scores are on the low side for UMass. Is it to my benefit to apply Early Action if I am on the borderline? I couldn't get a sense from her as to whether if, I'm not accepted Early Action, I would be put in the regular applicant pool or just be rejected.
If you're interested in UMass Amherst and your greatest deficiency is your ACT score, then you'd still be wise to apply via Early Action. There is really no down side to doing this, assuming that your junior grades weren't weak, too (and it sounds like they weren't).
If you're planning to retake the ACT in October (or take the SAT), you can still submit your scores to UMass, if they're better than your current score. Even though the November EA deadline will have passed by the time you get new scores, you can ask your school counselor to fax or email them quickly to UMass, if they are indeed scores that you want the admission folks to see. (Then you would have to follow up with an official score report.)
But if your new scores aren't better ... or if you don't plan to take the test at all (because you've already taken it more than once and don't expect to improve) ... it's still a wise move to show your interest to UMass by getting in the Early pool.
If you're rejected outright via Early Action, you would be rejected outright via Regular Decision, too. So you might as well get the bad news promptly and move on.
Early Action is NOT a good plan for students who had an especially crummy junior year and who thus should compile some stronger senior grades before colleges get a look at them. It's also not a good plan for anyone who has scheduled SAT's or ACT's for after November, since the college folks won't see those results before the Early verdicts are handed down.
But, in your case, if you don't plan to do additional testing (or if you've signed up already for the October ACT), then you're really not taking a risk by aiming for EA at UMass. If the UMass admission official you spoke with sounded vague, she was probably trying to tell you that she can't predict where you'll stand in the admission pool until she sees the other candidates (or she may have just been checking her email on her Blackberry and not paying ample attention to you ;) ).
If you end up being a strong applicant in that Early pool, you'll get in. If you're a borderline applicant, you'll get deferred ... and later compared to the candidates in the Regular Decision crowd. And if you're a weak applicant, you'll be denied ... but not because you took a shot at Early Action. This would be your fate any time you apply. So I say to go for it ... and good luck!