Applying Early to College Requires Research

By Peggy Stacy and Gail Meyer
Special to the Palisades News

Long ago, before Instagram and kale smoothies, college counselors used to tell high school seniors that applying Early Decision would increase their chances for admission but not THAT much.

Alas, life has changed since the days when kindergartners had neither workbooks nor homework.

In the fall of 2017, students need a plan of attack, a keen understanding of the fundamentals of Rolling Admission, Early Action, Early Decision and, quite possibly, a subscription to to help maintain emotional equilibrium.

Taking advantage of Rolling Admission is a good, non-binding way to test the water and gain confidence. At least 89 national universities offer Rolling Admission, including Indiana, Rutgers and Penn State.

The application window is fairly long, schools accept (or deny) on a rotating basis, and students often hear back within weeks of applying. Although admission rates at schools currently offering RA tend to be relatively high, spots can quickly fill up. The longer a student waits, the slimmer the chance for acceptance.

Early Action is another non-binding system, but with a short application window. 

Peggy Stacy (right) and Gail Meyer

EA gives students a statistical edge without fear of commitment. Some schools offer non-exclusive early action programs, which means a student can also apply to other schools with non-exclusive early action policies, increasing odds even more.

It is crucial, however, to determine which schools offer non-exclusive policies, and which schools offer Single-Choice Early Action, which prohibits students from applying Early Action or Early Decision to more than one school. Examples of Restricted Early Action schools are Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Princeton. Always fact-check carefully; there are nuances to the rules as well as serious consequences for breaking them.

In contrast to EA, Early Decision IS binding—if accepted, you must commit. This is fantastic for students who are unwavering about their first choice and for students who don’t need financial aid. With ED, students will be unable to compare aid offers from other schools.

The comparative advantage between applying early versus regular decision can be startling. In the early round last year, Harvard’s acceptance rate was estimated at 14.49 percent. Regular decision? Just 3.38 percent. Vanderbilt boasted a 23.6 percent acceptance rate for earlies, while 8.6 percent of regular decision applicants received letters of acceptance. These statistics are sometimes elusive; some schools publish only their overall acceptance rate, which can be misleading.

Applying to University of California schools is spectacularly straightforward. Students apply from November 1 through November 30 only. There is no rolling or early policy, nor letters of recommendations, but please remember to send test scores and apply for financial aid, if needed.

Last year, outdated essay prompts morphed into Personal Insight Questions, encouraging students to briefly discuss four different aspects of their lives, strengths and interests. We were heartened when our students en- thusiastically revealed hidden talents and unique challenges.

Seniors: Do your research with an open mind by investigating colleges you know nothing about; visit if you can. Look for schools that have programs that speak to your interests. Gather information from alums wherever you find them—siblings, parents, neighbors, teachers and coaches. Go to info sessions and scour websites. To maximize admissions options, apply to a range of schools with different application policies.

Applying early requires a high degree of organization, a quality not always consistent with 17-year-old psyches. Writing interesting essays, and coordinating letters of recommendation, standardized testing and transcript requests before Halloween demands meticulous attention to detail.

Just know that even if you spend Labor Day agonizing over your personal statement while your friends enjoy one last summer bonfire, you could, potentially, have the best winter break ever.

(Peggy Stacy served as the College Center Writing Coach at Palisades Charter High School for nine years. She has a B.A. in English literature from UCLA and works as a writing tutor in Pacific Palisades. Gail Meyer, MSW, is a Certified Educational Planner (CEP), the highest level of professional certification for educational consultants. She is on the Board of Directors for the Independent Educational Consultants Association, where for the past two years she served as board president.)

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