The number one reason prospective college students apply to college early is to find out sooner where they will be going to college. But the data shows there is an even greater reason to do so. Many colleges are filling up to half of their incoming classes before the Regular Decision application period even begins. Early Decision acceptance rates are commonly much higher than Regular Decision acceptance rates. Sometimes the rates are double or triple.
A commonly reported college admissions metric is yield, which demonstrates how many accepted applicants actually attend the school instead of choosing to attend a competitor school that has also accepted them. The more Early Decisions the higher the yield.
It is worth understanding Early Admissions to be sure you take the appropriate steps to college admission success.
I will be profiling the University of Pennsylvania for this article as a means to describe and demonstrate the Early Admissions process. Penn is one of the most selective and sought after private Ivy league schools in the United States. They have nearly 40,000 applications annually from some of the brightest and most ambitious high schools students in the world. They are also well known for their business school, Wharton, where the most coveted MBA’s are awarded.
Below you can see the University of Pennsylvania had a 2014 Early Decision Acceptance Rate of 25.3% which is over three times the rate of acceptance of their Regular Decision application pool (7.9%). That is twenty-five out of one hundred students accepted via Early Decision versus eight out of one hundred during the Regular Decision period.
That is a sizable difference.
There were approximately 7,000 Early Decision applications and 30,000 Regular Decision applications in the latest freshman incoming class. Admissions committees are under pressure and time constraints in evaluating and identifying members of the incoming class.
Over 1,800 students in the incoming freshman class (over 50%) were already accepted and committed BEFORE the Regular Decision process even began in early January.
The time spent on each application is commonly reduced during the Regular Decision application period. Admissions officers have the objective of filling the remaining seats available. This forces the Penn Admissions Department to be more selective during the Regular Decision admissions period.
Which pool do you want to be in?
Prospective students who recognize this and have application credentials that align to recent incoming freshman classes are wise to apply Early Decision if this school is their top choice.
Four Keys To Early College Acceptance
The high school senior year “college anxiety machine” is known to grow as parents, teachers, friends, and family begin to ask which college you will be going to. Every family get together is filled with inquiries and advice. Some seniors prefer to avoid this frenzy and get it over with.
There are hundreds of colleges in the United States that support early college admissions applications. There are benefits to submitting college admission applications early for both the college and the student.
Early Decision and Early Action plans allow you to apply as early as November of high school senior year with an admissions decision coming as early as December 15.
As you begin narrowing down your College List, it is important to know the four keys to college early acceptance:
- Understand The Various College Application Types
- Know When To Start Your College Applications
- Know When To Apply Early Decision or Early Action
- Know Your Admissions Acceptance Chances
Let’s be clear about one thing. Before ever considering early admissions you should first target the school, the merits of the school, and if it is the best fit for you. Complete your analysis, conduct necessary college visit(s), be sure that you are competitively qualified and that you have narrowed down your list of colleges to a short list of schools you would be happy to call your college.
If you have a single clear cut favorite then you should check to see if that school offers Early Decision. If you have a short list of strong interest schools, then you should check to see if any of them offer Early Action. You can then plan your applications strategy accordingly following the four keys to college early admissions below.
The goal is to be in a great position to succeed with your college applications process.
Key #1 Understand The Various College Application Types
|Early Action Application||This application is non-binding. You can apply Early Action to multiple schools. You will likely be notified of a decision by January of your senior year (sometimes December 15) and can either accept right away or wait until the colleges application deadline. (typically May 1)|
|Early Decision Application||This application binds you to your first-choice school and you are only allowed to apply Early Decision to one school. You will likely be notified of a decision by January of your senior year (sometimes December 15). You are expected to accept when the school has notified you of your acceptance.|
|Restrictive Early Action Application||This application is non-binding BUT only allows you to apply to one early action school. The remainder of the applications have to be regular admissions. You can either accept right away or wait until the colleges application deadline. (typically May 1)|
|Regular Application||This application is non-binding and you are not limited to how many schools you can apply. You can either accept right away or wait until the colleges application deadline. (typically May 1)|
|Rolling Application||Some colleges have a rolling admissions window. It may be wise to apply to colleges with rolling application windows as they can provide responses in 4-6 weeks in addition to regular admissions. You can either accept right away or wait until the colleges application deadline. (typically May 1)|
|Priority Application||Priority applications are offered by some colleges to prospective students. These applications may have reduced application fees, merit aid, and possibly no essays or a shorter application. You can either accept right away or wait until the colleges application deadline. (typically May 1)|
Penn has an Admissions Page that describes the Early Decision option available to applicants. It is important when applying Early Decision to understand the ramifications. Notice that the only way to withdraw once accepted is by working with the Financial Aid office at the University. One thing I would want to understand is the net cost and the total amount I may be required to borrow to attend as a full-time on campus resident for four years of school. I would want a say in how much is acceptable or not relative to the value and return on investment of this college education.
Key #2 Know When To Start Your College Applications
It is important to check into each school’s admissions schedule and build your College Admissions Plan accordingly. Each application has various requirements that range from test score submission, essay completion, letters of recommendation, application completion, high school transcript submission.
You will want to understand all of the requirements for each school and put them into your College Plan. You should be aware which schools support the Common Application and which have their own application packages. This factors into the time you will be required to complete the application process for each school.
The University of Pennsylvania does support Early Decision and Regular Decision applications but does not support Early Action. This means that you will need to plan accordingly and allow the time required to submit the best application possible.
The early decision deadline for application for the 2017-2018 academic school year is November 1, 2016. The Regular Decision deadline is January 5, 2017. That is over two months earlier than Regular Decision during a busy senior year of high school!
The applicant must demonstrate great organization and time management. They will also need to ensure proper completion and submission of all application requirements. This requires a high degree of effort. It will require follow up and verification of your high school, the people writing letters of recommendation on your behalf and the testing agencies that should be submitting your test scores.
Notice that Early Decision responses come in mid-December and Penn expects an accepted applicants response, or enrollment confirmation, by the start of the Regular Decision start date. For the upcoming application period this date is January 5, 2017. Penn wants to understand exactly how many spots they have to fill by the start date of their Regular Decision applications period. Penn does not want to deprive even one student of the opportunity to go to their great school. This is common for the schools offering the Early Decision applications.
Know the deadlines and the application requirements for each school on your admissions list. Below is the Checklist & Deadline page from the University of Pennsylvania’s site effective October 2016. You will want to always verify updated schedules and check lists with the school as you lay out your application schedule.
Key #3 Know When To Apply Early Decision or Early Action
Based on the recent trend of college admissions, it makes sense to apply Early Decision to a college when the following criteria exist:
- The College offers Early Decision
- The College is Your Top Choice
- The College meets all fit criteria (academic, social, financial)
- You are a Legacy (your family has attended this school)
It makes sense to apply Early Action to a college when the following criteria exist:
- The College offers Early Action
- The College is On Your College List
- You are a Legacy (your family has attended this school)
Since the Early Decision Acceptance is binding, there is more at stake to the applicant. You should be crystal clear that the school is your top choice and have a complete understanding on the financial ramifications of attending this school. For most that means completing the FAFSA as soon as possible after the new October 1 submission date for financial aid to begin the process of obtaining merit aid, federal grants and loans, and the net and total cost of four years of school at this school.
Last, you should understand your admissions reality chances covered by our final key to applying early admissions.
Key #4 Know Your College Acceptance Chances
The fourth and final key to college admissions is meant as a dose of reality in this college admissions game played every year. The game is similar to that game of Musical Chairs we played as kids. There are more kids than seats. When the music stops someone will be left without a seat. For this college admissions game, the stakes are higher and the criteria is different. We will replace music with tangible (GPA, class rank, test scores, number of AP and Honors classes, etc) and intangible (extra-curricular, leadership, community service, character) qualifications that get subjectively compared to one another to determine who gets to have a seat.
Competition is fierce at the most selective schools. Consider that most of the applicants have a lot of intangible qualifications. One general guideline is that if you fall under the middle 50% range of GPA or test scores your odds drop significantly. Your best chance may be to get your grades up or re-take the tests to achieve higher scores. If this is not possible (out of time) then you may have to re-align your reality and consider some different schools.
At Penn, according to College Data more than 75% of freshmen were in the top 10% of their high school class and scored over 1310 on the SAT I or over 29 on the ACT. 90% of incoming freshman had a non-weighted GPA of 3.75 or higher with an average non-weighted GPA of 3.93 for the entire incoming class. On the SAT I incoming freshman Math score a 733 average (with a 700-790 range of middle 50%).
Exceptions may exist if you are a legacy of the school, meaning you have family that attended (parents, siblings) the college. Colleges often factor this condition favorably as a means to extend their student diversity.
Moving Ahead With College Applications
You will want to be sure to follow these four keys to Early College Acceptance when planning your college applications. Again, it is most important to identify the right college(s) and then understand their admissions offerings. Then you can make early application decisions.
Colleges have a difficult time assembling each years class of incoming freshman. There are thousands of applications to review and consider. They are dealing with limited time to complete the full evaluations and fill the limited seats available each year. Admissions officers will work nights and weekends for several straight months to work through and give every application the consideration it deserves. The tough decisions go through committees. I do believe it is each college’s intent to admit all students that align the right students to the school to ensure a well rounded and diverse class who collectively will make the school and world a better place.
In the book The Gatekeepers in a behind the scenes real-world account of a grueling admissions process, an admissions officer acknowledges the difficulty of having to deny students admission due to student size limitations. “Wesleyan received so many applications that Ralph knew that, on average, he had to say no to three candidates for each one he accepted, while knowing full well that most were capable of doing the work at Wesleyan and would likely thrive there.”
To me, this means do not take it too personally when a college denies you access into your dream school. There are thousands of kids turned away every year. It is an early life lesson in this world of tough competition at every level in every area of life. There are ways to achieve what you wish and a single college denying you acceptance is NO WAY a testament to your character or your ability to go out and make a mark in this world.
Warren Buffett was turned down at Harvard as a kid. He has turned out okay. Make it more about picking the right and best fit school for you and then making the most of that college experience. If you have a fire in your belly and want to go make a difference, then any college you get to will provide you that opportunity. You just need to go make that happen. Seriously.