The Admission Process
Many colleges offer students the opportunity to apply for early admission, which includes both early decision or action. Early admission programs are designed for students who are certain of their first choice college. The student applies in the fall (usually November) and hears within a month. There are two kinds of early programs: early action and early decision. Early decision involves a commitment on the student's part - so that if accepted, the student is automatically matriculated. Early action, on the other hand, does not involve that commitment. The student accepted under early action programs has until late spring to notify the school whether or not he/she will attend. Early decision is the more restrictive of the early admission decisions and due to increased use by colleges and students, should be clearly understood.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education (3/15/96), more students are using early decision. Some universities like Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, say their applications for early decision rose by as much as 25% over 1994. The College Board says that 470 colleges have early decision programs, up from 400 in 1991. Many college counselors are concerned by the rise in early decision applications. They say that early decision locks a student into a college choice before they can consider all the implications of that decision. A further concern is that early decision is used mostly by students from wealthy families who do not need financial aid. Students needing aid often must wait for aid offers in April before selecting a college.
Why do students use early decision? Some students believe that early decision applications have an advantage as a higher percentage are accepted. While statistically this may be true it is often because the early decision applicant pool is usually made up of students with more academic merit. Some students just want to simplify their lives by concluding the admission process as quickly as possible, so they can focus on other priorities. While this can make sense, it can also result in limited financial aid options with no opportunity for comparison with other schools.
Why do colleges encourage early decision? The chronicle of Higher Education states, "...aside from being interested in good matches, there are some self-interested reasons why colleges might want to fill their classes this way. In most early decision programs, students promise they will enroll in the college if they get in. The pledge eliminates some of the guess-work that characterizes the spring admission season, when a college might lose to competitors half or three-fourths of the people it admits." For colleges, early decision responses are critical to their budget planning cycle.
Should students use early decision? If they clearly understand the limitations of their decision and realize that early decision is often more convenient to colleges than to students, this choice may be appropriate. Do students using early decision have an advantage over students using the regular admission process? In the majority of situations, experts agree the answer is no.