Many parents and students I counsel confuse Early Admission, Early Read, Early Decision, Early Action and Early Notification. How these and the other admission strategies listed below are used, will determine the course of the student’s college years. Understanding them is an absolute must!
Early Admission: Typically, the student applies to college at the beginning of the junior year and simply goes through the process earlier. However, Early Admission is seldom used as it only applies to the most exceptional students who complete all high school requirements prior to the 12th grade, or even earlier. Although it is not binding, I strongly recommend that the student demonstrate a college level of social and emotional maturity before implementing this strategy. Schools often get into a bidding contest to recruit the truly exceptional student, some offering full scholarships for the privilege of having such an accomplished student on their campus! Nonetheless, use with extreme caution!
Early Read: A number of colleges will offer to calculate a family’s EFC, (the expected family contribution; the minimum amount determined by the federal government that a family will pay at any college for each student). This is done without obligating the student to apply to their school. Simply send them all your financial information at the beginning of the 12th grade! Sounds like a good deal, right? Wrong! Wherever possible, keep the schools and the federal government out of your wallet. If the student eventually decides to apply to that school, the aid offer has already been predetermined. Surely, you wouldn’t feel comfortable having the IRS calculate your taxes, so why would you have a college determine your EFC? Avoid this at all costs. Failure to heed this advice will result in paying thousands more than you had to for a college education!
Early Decision: This is a program with earlier deadlines and notification dates than the regular decision process. Students who apply for an Early Decision program commit to attending that school and only that school. This is a binding contract restricting the student to that one school. Once accepted, the student must notify all other schools applied to and request that their application be withdrawn. There is however, an upside. If money is not an issue, and the family will not be applying for financial aid, Early Decision is highly recommended, because it will give the student a decisive advantage in the admissions process. On the other hand, if financial aid is an issue, the danger is that the student must attend that college regardless of the financial aid offered! While Early Decision adds some leverage to being accepted, the financial consequences can be devastating because the student must accept the school’s financial aid package no matter how inadequate it might be! I only recommend Early Decision under very specific circumstances. Also, if you change your mind, rescinding an Early Decision acceptance doesn’t sit well with the schools. This option should only be used with extreme caution.
Early Decision II: Offered by some schools, it is virtually identical to Early Decision except the application deadlines are later, usually January 1st. As with Early Decision, only one school can be applied to. I’m not an advocate of this one either. Follow the Early Decision criteria above and proceed accordingly.
Early Action: Except for Early Decision candidates, I encourage all students to apply for Early Action. Students apply from September 15th to January 1st, and notices usually go out between December 15th and January 31st, (dates may vary). Applying for Early Action has one definite advantage. Since the competition is so fierce, the sooner a student applies the better. For the barely qualified student, this is the only way to go. It would be highly unlikely such a student would qualify in the general applicant pool, as they would be competing against far too many honor students and would pale by comparison. Also, students apply to college at the beginning of the senior year, and any grades beyond mid-term may not count at all! Always implement this strategy.
Early Notification: This is similar to Early Action, except that some schools might also ask for a commitment to their financial aid package well in advance of the traditional May 1st deadline. Unless they make an offer you can’t refuse, ask them to extend their deadline until the family has had sufficient time to consider all offers from the schools the student has been accepted to. I would strongly advise against negotiations because the student will be at a serious disadvantage with no other offers to compare and accepting could be a very costly mistake. Avoid this like the plague!
Open Admissions: Some four year, most two year and virtually all community colleges will offer all applicants admission on a come-as-you-are basis. If they have room, as long as you have a high school diploma – you’re in. Implement when available.
Rolling Admissions: (I’ve saved the best for last.) This is a most advantageous school policy for applicants, as colleges offering Rolling Admissions will notify students of their status within a few weeks of receiving all necessary application documents. They usually accept students until such time as their quotas have been satisfied. Check the admissions policies of the schools you’re applying to and by all means implement this strategy whenever and wherever available…