05 October 2018

The Early Admission Advantage (Part 2 of 3)

Posted in Early Admission, Class of 2023

PART II: When and How to Take Advantage of Early Admission Programs

img-earlyIn Part I of this series we covered the fundamentals of college early admission programs.  We learned that:

  • Colleges offer early admission programs to manage yield, lock up prized applicants and improve prestige in the process
  • There can be as much as a 2-4x difference in admit rates between early and regular decision applicants
  • Because there is often a high proportion of an enrolled class coming through early admission, your chances of getting in via regular decision are actually worse than you might think

In short, you should always consider early admission programs as part of your college plan.  But under what conditions does it make sense and how do you apply it against your list of schools?  This is the topic for Part II.  


Part II

In this blog post we'll cover when and how to take advantage of early admission.  

Generally speaking, there are four considerations:

  • Your competitiveness as an applicant.  The first consideration is your competitiveness as an applicant.  Early admission rarely makes a weak application stronger, so be sure that your test scores and qualifications are strong relative to admitted applicants from the previous year.  This is especially the case if you plan to apply early decision or restrictive early action, as this will constrain your application options to other schools on your list.
  • Your list of schools. The second consideration is the list itself.  Your application strategy will change based on the admissions options available for the schools on the list and how you've ranked them in order of interest.  
  • Your commitment level to the top schools on your list. Your strategy is also very much influenced by how strongly you are committed to the top schools on your list.  It doesn't make sense to apply early decision if you're wishy-washy about attending.
  • Affordability. Your ability to shop around for the best financial aid packages may be severely limited by certain types of early admission.  If affordability is a concern, this may be a show stopper.

With these considerations in mind, let's explore when it makes sense to take advantage of Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, Early Decision I and Early Decision II.


When to take advantage of Early Action (EA)

Simply put, early action is a terrific option under just about any scenario.  It's non-binding, meaning there's no obligation to attend if you're accepted.  Applying EA is particularly effective when:

  • There's a meaningful admission advantage vs. regular decision
  • It's used for targets or reaches where acceptance lets you avoid applying to lower ranked schools on your list
  • You're a competitive applicant with strong qualifications

In short, take full advantage of early action options on your list—not only will it improve admission odds, it will also cut out the extra effort and cost of applying to schools lower on the list if there's good news.   


When to take advantage of Restrictive Early Action (REA)

REA programs are non-binding like early action but they constrain your ability to apply to other early action or early decision programs on your list.  These constraints are specific to each REA program, so let's look at some of the more popular ones:

  • Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford.  These schools offer variations of Single Choice Early Action, with prohibits you from applying to any other binding early decision program or early action program for a private institution.  So only take advantage of REA here when:
    • It's your top choice or there are no early admission opportunities for schools ranked higher on your list
    • You're a competitive applicant with strong qualifications
  • Georgetown.  Georgetown prohibits you from applying to any binding ED I or ED II program but allows applications to other early action programs.  It's interesting to note that historically there has been no advantage to applying early; in fact, the early action admit rate is slightly lower than the regular decision admit rate.  With these factors in mind, take advantage of REA at Georgetown only when:
    • It's your top choice or you don't plan to apply ED I or ED II to any of the schools on your list 
    • You're a competitive applicant with strong qualifications

Overall, REA makes sense with your top choice, or when it doesn't adversely affect how you apply to schools ranked higher on your list.


When to take advantage of Early Decision I

Since early decision is binding, apply ED I only when:

  • It's your top choice school 
  • You're strongly committed to attending if accepted
  • The admission odds for ED I are substantially better than regular decision
  • You're a competitive applicant with strong qualifications
  • You don't need financial aid or are confident the ED I school will provide an attractive package  

Again, be absolutely certain that the ED I school is where you want to be.


When to take advantage of Early Decision II

Early Decision II is binding like ED I, but the application deadline occurs in early January, with notification in February.  This makes ED II useful when:

  • Your top choice school has denied you admission (via ED I, EA or REA)
  • Your ED II school is your next best option
  • You're strongly committed to attending if accepted
  • You're a competitive applicant with strong qualifications
  • You don't need financial aid or are confident the ED II school will provide an attractive package

How to apply these thoughts to a college list

We suggest a simple three step approach against a list you have already stack ranked in order of interest.

  • Choose your early admission strategy for your top school.  This should be very straightforward based on the options offered by your top choice school and the level of commitment you have to attending if accepted.
  • Choose your early admission strategy for your #2 school.  Take care to factor in any constraints imposed by the early admit strategy selected in Step 1.  For example, applying ED I to your top choice school prohibits applying REA to your #2 school.
  • Look for other early action opportunities on the rest of your list.  Where available, consider applying early action to other schools on your list.  Assuming you're a competitive application, you'll enhance your prospects for admission and also put yourself in a position to reduce the number of applications you'll have to work on over the holidays if you're accepted.  

Summary 

In summary, your early admission strategy depends on your competitiveness as an applicant, your college list, and the strength of commitment you have to the top schools on your list.  Assuming you are a competitive applicant with strong qualifications:

  • Take full advantage of Early Action for all target and reach schools on your list
  • Apply Restrictive Early Action to your top school or when the restrictions don't inhibit your ability to take advantage of early admission programs at higher ranked schools 
  • Apply Early Decision I only when you are strongly committed to attending your top choice school and have no concerns about affordability
  • Apply Early Decision II if you've been denied admission to your top choice school, you're strongly committed to attending this ED II school as your next best option, and you have no concerns about affordability

To apply these recommendations to your list of schools, start by selecting an early admission strategy for your top school. Decide next on your strategy for your #2 school, taking care to factor in any limitations imposed by your top choice strategy. Finally, look for non-binding early action opportunities on the rest of your list to beef up your overall odds of admission.

With this approach in place, we can start to apply it to various scenarios.  This will be the topic for Part III in this series.