Early Decision is no guarantee

Will McDonald and Simon Stracher

For decades, late March to early April has represented a pinnacle in high school life – when seniors hear back from colleges they have applied to and decide which school they would like to attend. However, in order to seek what they perceived to be an edge, more and more students have opted for a different path for admission -– Early Decision.

Offered by roughly 18 percent of colleges and universities,  Early Decision is a binding agreement whereby students agree to both apply early only to that school and to attend the school if they are admitted. According to Guidance Counselor PJ Washenko, students considering applying early have to weigh several factors before reaching a decision.

“When students look at their academic profile, and it matches up well, and they couldn’t imagine going anywhere else, and it’s a good financial option for them, and they won’t have to explore other options like lost uncles you haven’t talked to in forever in order to pay their tuition, I recommend using Early Decision,” he said.

One incentive to committing is the fact that, on paper, applying early offers a statistical advantage. For example, Duke University accepts 29.6 percent of early applicants compared to only 11 percent regular. In a list of acceptance rates for over 40 of the most elite institutions in the country published this spring by “The New York Times,” each school that offered an early plan had a higher acceptance rate compared to the regular decision acceptance rate.

While several factors can partially account for the higher acceptance rate, such as the fact that Early Decision tends to attract recruited athletes and students with legacies, private college counselor Kim Freudigman agrees that any students’ chances are higher if they apply early decision. However, there is a caveat.

“If you’re a qualified candidate, and you really love the school, Early Decision is the best way to increase your odds of getting in,” Freudigman said. “However the key phrase in that last statement is that the student needs to be a ‘qualified candidate’ for that school.”

For past students who have had the combination of passion for a school and statistics that aligned with their dream school’s averages, deciding to apply early was a logical choice.

“In hindsight, applying Early Decision was the best choice I could have made – I knew I had found the perfect school for me, and after I got in, I got to relax and enjoy the second half of senior year instead of just the last quarter” Sam Cohen ’14, now attending Emory University, said.

But some current Staples students are less certain about which school is right for them or may want to compare financial aid offers made by different schools. Others figure their chances at “reach” schools may be higher later in the year.

“My application will be at its strongest during regular decision, since being able to show colleges first semester grades will benefit my application,” Katie Smith ’14 said.

While early decision may seem a boon only for students, there are perks for colleges offering the option as well. In a New York Times article published on their blog “The Choice,” Robert Massa, an administrator at Lafayette College, wrote, “Unquestionably, colleges benefit from early decision. The more students it admits early, the closer that college can come to hitting its enrollment targets during the regular round.”

Washenko emphasizes to students the importance of remembering that selecting a method of admission is just the first part of a long process, with a successful end result by no means guaranteed. “College admissions are so unpredictable that you don’t know what’s going to happen. You try to do the best in school, do well on your test scores, and try to be a normal teenager, and hope for the best,” he said.