Early Decision: College Experts Forum
Comments from Seth Allen
Early Decision is often maligned by its critics and misunderstood by the public. At the one extreme, Early Decision is seen by students as a strategy to make themselves more competitive for admission at reach schools. At the other, as a ploy by colleges to unfairly lock-in students and avoid market economics. Granted, both extremes exist, perhaps increasingly so, but it’s also true that Early Decision remains the purest form of admission. In an age when marketing consultants are the norm, college rankings generate big business, and application numbers at most schools resemble the stock market of the ’90s, admission under Early Decision is still about a student’s qualifications rather than a student’s competitiveness. In other words, if you meet the burden of proof that you can be successful at the college, you have a very good chance of being admitted under Early Decision. Under other plans, you must also demonstrate, in a relative sense, that you are superior to the other applicants vying for a spot in the freshman class, a feat that is oftentimes difficult to predict because of the vagaries of the applicant pool.
Ideal candidates under Early Decision have made a determination early on that the college has all the characteristics and resources they are looking for in an institution. They’ve looked at enough colleges to know that they’re not going to find a better match later in their search. Academically, they’re qualified for admission based on the school’s profile for grade point averages, difficulty of high school curriculum, and standardized test scores. And finally, even if financial aid is a concern, these candidates are more concerned with “fit” and “value” than getting the best deal.
If you’ve conducted a thorough search, matched your interests to what each college provides, and one institution rises to the top, you’ll realize these advantages to applying Early Decision. First, you’ll hear about a decision early in the admissions process, typically by the end of first semester senior year. Some schools like Dickinson also offer a later round of Early Decision in January for students who start their college search late or who need more time to decide if they want to commit Early Decision. Second, your record will be judged on its own merits and not in competition with other applicants for a spot in the freshman class. Third, if you are applying for financial aid and file your paperwork on time you’ll receive the funding necessary to make your attendance at the college possible. Which brings up the downside to Early Decision. You can’t shop around after the fact. If you are looking for the lowest price for college, then Early Decision is not for you. Financial aid packages don’t go down, in fact they’re often generous since the college has made a firm commitment to you, but they don’t include “hyper aid,” which is the result of colleges trying to outbid each other. If you want to learn more about Early Decision, I encourage you to visit the Dickinson ED web page.
Ultimately, the decision to apply Early Decision is a personal one. Don’t let yourself be forced into it by a guidance counselor, an admissions staff member, or an athletic coach. And don’t tell yourself, “I’m applying Early Decision somewhere!” If you conduct your college search right, you’ll be as pleased four years from now as you are in December. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions.
Seth Allen is the Director of Admissons at Dickinson College, and encourages those looking for more Early Decision Information the visit the Dickinson ED web page or to contact him directly by e-mail at email@example.com .