Understanding Early Admission Options

Early soon, almost there, in short time - a clock symbolizes a reminder that Early is near, will happen and finish quickly in a little while, 3d illustrationA marketing executive at a major auto manufacturer once shared with me her company’s mantra when it came to promotional campaigns:  “Get butts in seats.”  Any initiative that she and her team considered—web-based advertising, event sponsorships— had to get people behind the wheel of a car.  Colleges and universities work under a similar guiding principle.  They want to have as clear an idea as possible of how many applicants will accept their offer of admission—a descriptive statistic known in admissions as a college’s “yield” rate.  Early admissions options help them do that.

In broad strokes, applying early means several key conditions apply:

  • Students submit their applications prior to the regular decision application deadline.  In exchange, they receive an admissions decision before the regular spring notifications.
  • Applying early can result in getting accepted, getting rejected, or getting deferred.
  • Acceptance means that your child is in, that she has a seat in the school’s incoming freshman class.
  • Getting rejected means that she does not have a seat in the school’s incoming freshman class and will generally not be considered again in the regular decision applicant pool.
  • A deferral means that your child’s application was not strong enough for an early acceptance but that the admissions committee would like to take another look when deliberating over regular decision applications.  A deferral then turns into an acceptance or a rejection in the spring.  (Admissions committees try not to waitlist students who have already received a deferral.)

Applicants have their pick of a number of early admissions options depending on the school, each with its own level of restrictiveness:  Early Action, “Restrictive” Early Action (also known as “Single Choice” Early Action), Early Decision, Early Decision 2 (“ED2”), and more.  Level of restrictiveness tends to vary inversely with a college’s ability to attract students:  The more compelling the school, the less restrictive they need to be with their early admission menu.  Understanding the alternatives will help you guide your child in deciding whether to apply early admission to a first choice school.

Early Action (EA):  Your child may really, really like a school, but not want to make a firm commitment just yet.  Consider plain old, ordinary, no frills, no strings, non-binding Early Action.  In exchange for submitting her application before the regular deadline, your child will get early notification of the admissions decision, with no obligation to commit until May.  Clark University’s timeline typifies this option:  Submit the application by November 1st, get the results by December 15th, and accept or decline an offer of admission by May 1st.  Students may apply EA and/or regular decision to multiple schools under a plan like Clark’s.  Babson, GeorgetownMIT, MorehouseNortheastern, SpelmanTulane, and University of Chicago stand out as some of the more selective private institutions that offer EA plans with no restrictions.  A number of state schools also offer non-restrictive EA plans, like UMass Amherst, University of Michigan, UNC Chapel Hill, UVA, and UT Austin (UT uses the term “Priority Application Deadline” which, practically speaking, means the same thing).  Pay close attention to these public options, as Restrictive EA schools allow you apply to them concurrently (see below).

Restrictive Early Action (also known as “Single Choice Early Action”):  A handful of schools offer a more restrictive EA plan that allows a non-binding early application, but only to that one school (with several specified exceptions, e.g., state schools—see some of those options above).  Students may apply regular decision elsewhere and have until May 1st to accept the EA offer if they choose to do so.  Schools that use the “Restrictive” or “Single Choice” options include Yale, Stanford, and Harvard.  Read the fine print carefully to understand the specific restrictions that a Single Choice EA program stipulates.

Early Decision (ED):  ED applications, unlike EA, are binding.  Those admitted early must withdraw any other applications that they have submitted and commit to attending the school that admitted them ED.  Small, liberal arts colleges, especially, rely on ED (Amherst, Bowdoin, and Grinnell, for example).  Schools that offer two rounds of Early Decision might call the first “ED1” and the second “ED2.”  The difference usually lies in the deadlines, with the ED1 application deadline generally falling in November and ED2 in January.

Make sure to check the specific early admission provisions for any schools that your child is considering, as parameters can change from school to school and from year to year.  Please note that colleges and universities will sometimes offer both EA and ED options (Chicago, Clark, Spelman – to name a few).  Verify, verify, verify that your child is applying to the early admissions program that she wants before she clicks “submit.”  Some school websites still leave me confused, so I follow up with a telephone call or email to the admissions office if necessary.  You should do the same.

Please contact me if you and your child would like to discuss early admission options.

Rev. 01/29/2020