Who is Early Admissions for?
The word “misconception” is comprised of the Germanic prefix mis- meaning “bad, wrong” and the Old French concepcion meaning “act of conceiving in the womb”. Over the years, I have heard many misconceived ideas about Early Admissions, not only from applicants but especially from their fathers and mothers. Is Early Admissions really more advantageous for applicants than Regular Admissions? Is it impossible to get into an Ivy League or similar caliber school unless you utilize Early Admissions? Who is Early Admissions for?
First, a concise introduction to the types of Early Admissions plans available. Early Admissions plans are broadly categorized into two types: Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA). From here, some schools also opt to offer even more specific plans. Early Decision can be divided into ED and ED2, while Early Action can be specified to be Restrictive or Single-Choice (Please watch the following JLCC video for more info: https://youtu.be/vnjA4H3WLMo).
The most notable difference between ED and EA is whether the admission decision is binding or not. If an applicant is accepted through an ED plan, she is legally bound to enroll at the school she applied to. On the other hand, EA is a non-binding agreement; even if an applicant is accepted to a given college, she is not required to enroll there. Or in other words, the student is afforded a bit more freedom of choice with EA. However, this is where I must mention the Restrictive and Single-Choice EA plans. By design, Restrictive and Single-Choice EA plans limit the number of schools that an applicant can apply for Early Admissions. Universities with such EA plans include Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Georgetown, Boston College, and many others. In particular, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford* implement an Early Action Single Choice (EASC) system which limits the number of schools an applicant can apply to for Early Admissions to just one—the applicant must vow not to apply for Early Admissions anywhere else and therefore, should not even prepare to apply for Early Admissions anywhere else. This is how colleges can gauge a student’s interest factor (how interested she is to enroll at a school). In the case of EASC, though it waves the banner of EA, it’s similar to ED in that it forces the student to choose only one school to apply to. This means that anyone who applies through EASC must have done so by already choosing one of many, thereby communicating to admissions officers a high level of interest to enroll in their school.
But knowing the details of the different Early Admissions plans does not necessarily lead to an understanding of their context. We have to understand what purpose Early Admissions plans serve and what effect they have on an application overall. For example, if a student applies through ED or EASC, he has already shown interest in attending the school and can focus the rest of his application in demonstrating his genuine academic interests or painting a more complete picture of his personality and character. These are accomplished through the various required and supplemental essays, which require a thorough and comprehensive analysis and strategy. Here I would like to ask a basic question: who do you think Early Admissions is for?
First and foremost, Early Admissions is designed for students who have completed all the steps for college admissions by the end of their junior year or 11th grade. This means having taken a sufficient number of AP courses, a strong GPA, and SAT, SAT Subject Test or ACT scores which the student is satisfied with before entering senior year or 12th grade. Extracurricular and co-curricular activities should serve discernible purposes and have depth. Teachers, as well as any other mentors or supervisors from other activities, should already anticipate being asked for a recommendation. In addition to all of this, the student should already have a game plan for the application itself. In this way, unlike Regular Admissions, because Early Admissions is designed for students who are ahead in the process, potential applicants need to judge their specific situations honestly.
For this, we can flip the original question on its head: under what circumstances would Regular Admissions be more advantageous? For example, if a student’s cumulative GPA in junior year is relatively low, then she may consider challenging herself by doing well in difficult courses in senior year and including that hard work with a Regular Admissions application. If her SAT score is a bit low, she can consider retaking it in October or November. Indeed, for some students, their hard work in and out of the classroom from freshman to junior year truly blossom in their last year. For these students, it is hard to conclude that Early Admissions is better for them.
Many parents and students read about admissions statistics from a white paper produced by a college and completely focus their efforts based on their interpretations. Case in point: it’s true that about half of the student population at most Ivy League schools and other top ranked colleges were accepted through Early Admissions plans, not to mention the acceptance rate for Regular Admissions ranges from 5% to 8% as opposed to the acceptance rate for Early Admissions, which hovers around 20% to 30%. And people will make decisions based on these facts, as if every student had a 30% to be accepted through Early Admissions. As with all things, we must look underneath the hood. The reason for the 20% to 30% acceptance rate and nearly 50% of student population being comprised of people accepted through Early Admissions is the fierce competition of already highly qualified applicants. Because students in the top 5% are all competing with one another in Early Admissions, it can only lead to a high average success rate. We also cannot overlook legacy students and students with demonstrated exceptional excellence in any of the arts or in athletics. These students are already at an advantage and will usually apply through Early Admissions, further skewing these statistics. On the other end of the spectrum, students for Regular Admissions apply broadly to schools of all rankings from high to low, which inevitably increases the number of rejections, and this leads to the overall lower acceptance rate of 5% to 8%.
While working as a college admissions consultant for the past decade and some change, I had the chance to meet many students and their parents. Many of these parents rarely addressed the current, personal circumstances of their children, rather pointing to broad-stroke trends and insisting upon Early Admissions. Early Admissions is a matter of perspective. Every student is in a unique situation, so it’s important to assess the opinions of experts, then make a conscious decision to apply through the seemingly effective and higher probability Early Admissions. But we should not blindly believe that Early Admissions is better. We all have a responsibility to provide the best opportunities for our bright-eyed future college students, Early Admissions or not.
*Stanford calls their EA plan EA Restrictive, but is functionally the same as other schools’ EASC.
2018 Mom & I 7/10 Vol. 9
Written By Jason Lee