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Early Application Pitfalls

We are in the middle of early application time.  Students and parents have heard that submitting college applications early has its advantages, but it has some pitfalls too.

Yes, statistics have shown that many schools admit a higher percentage of early applicants leading some to believe “early” will give them an advantage.  Keep in mind that early applicants tend to be the over-achieving, well-prepared type, so the increase in admission rates may be more reflective of the students who apply than the decision to be early.

Either way, applying early can have its advantages.  It shows colleges and universities your desire to attend a particular school and submitting applications lifts a weighty burden for many seniors. Receiving an offer of admission before winter break is exciting and further reduces college-planning stress.

However, there are times when applying early can be a bad thing.  Some early options are binding.  Students admitted under a binding program do not leave themselves options in case circumstances or interests change.  Additionally, binding programs force a commitment before families have a chance to review financial aid offers, eliminating the chance to compare costs. Some students are just not prepared to apply early and submit weaker materials in their haste.  You should understand all early options and their restrictions before applying.

Here are the most common options (from most to least restrictive):

Early Decision (ED):  Students apply to their top choice school and in return for early notification (usually mid-December), students agree to attend if admitted.  Students admitted under an ED plan agree to withdraw all other regular decision applications and attend the ED school.  This is a binding early option and is not appropriate for students who want to compare financial aid offers before deciding.  (Yes, most of the competitive universities compare notes, so don’t try to scam the system!)

Restrictive Early Action (REA):  Students apply to one school and receive early notification, but the offer of admission is not binding.  Sometimes you will hear REA referred to as single-choice early action.  REA allows students to receive an early response from their top choice, but final decisions can be made in the spring once all offer and financial awards have been compared. The restrictive part is that students can only apply to one school.  (Again, schools compare notes, so honor your word.)

Early Action (EA):  Students apply early and receive early notification with no further restrictions.  A more flexible option, EA is not binding and often students can apply to more than one EA school.

Early Submission:  Technically not an early option, submitting an application well in advance of a regular decision or rolling admissions deadline is often referred to as “early admission”.  Many students will submit credentials to state universities in advance of a deadline in the hope of receiving an expedient response.

Some universities encourage early submission as a means of identifying highly motivated and interested applicants.  Two students from my summer Application Camp program listed Texas A&M as their first choice.  Both were told by different admissions representatives to submit their applications early in the fall and not wait until the deadline.  By October first, one student had already received his letter of acceptance.

As early deadlines approach, make sure you understand the benefits and potential drawbacks of early admission programs.

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