The College Search: Types of Applications

Some colleges offer different ways to apply, but David Murphy explains, there are positives and negatives to each.

May 12, 2010 7:35:08 AM PDT
Some colleges offer different ways to apply for admission.


The EARLY DECISION option is binding, and is only for those students who have a clear number-one choice in mind. If your student applies through a college's Early Decision program and is offered admission, he or she must accept the offer. Obviously, your student can only apply to a single college in this way. The advantage is that Early Decision candidates often have a better shot at being accepted, since they're first in line and are declaring a given school as their top choice. Admissions officers like offering seats to kids who really want to be on their campus, because it's often a predictor of future success. Some schools fill more than half of their available seats with Early Decision candidates. Others may only fill a third. Early Decision candidates also learn whether they've been accepted sooner than everyone else, usually by December or January. The main disadvantage is that if a student has a change of heart after being accepted, it's very difficult to back out of the deal. Also, you may want to check out whether a school's binding admission offer comes before or after a financial aid package is worked out. You don't want to be locked into a given school, only to find-out later that you're not getting the assistance you were anticipating.

Another option is EARLY ACTION, which is not binding. Its main advantage is that candidates find out whether they've been accepted sooner, often by December or January. They don't have to accept the offer until later in the spring, but knowing they're in or out early on can reduce stress, and simplify the rest of the process. A student can apply to multiple colleges through Early Action programs. The disadvantage is that the deadlines come much earlier, and meeting them can be extra-stressful.

SINGLE CHOICE EARLY ACTION is a non-binding option that works exactly the same as Early Action, except that an applicant can only apply to a single school in this way. The advantage is that a student is considered for admission ahead of thousands of other applicants, and may appear more committed and therefore more desirable to the college. Only a handful of schools are offering this option, as of 2010.

REGULAR ADMISSSION is the way most students apply for admission to colleges, and in fact, it's the only way many colleges accept applications. Under Regular Admission, an applicant can apply to as many schools as he or she pleases. The deadline for applying is generally later, usually around the end of the year, which allows more time for preparing the applications and essays. But in most cases, word of acceptance won't come until around the end of March. Accepted students only have until May 1st to make up their minds. Thats' one month, which sounds like a long time, but it's really not. Many kids don't make up their minds until days or even hours before the deadline.

By the way, when applying through Regular Admission, pay attention to specific school deadlines (always noted on each school's website). While most have roughly a January 1st application deadline, a few are much sooner. One very notable case in point is Penn State, which at the time we applied, had a deadline roughly equivelant to other college's Early Action deadlines (mid autumn). I mention this, because there are a ton of kids locally who apply to Penn State, and you don't want to get tripped up by that unusually early deadline.

Getting bad news out of the way

My son applied Early Decision to one of his "reach" schools that he would've loved to have gotten into, but knew he probably wouldn't. He was rejected early, which conveniently took that school off the list and allowed him to concentrate more fully on his remaining options. He applied through Regular Admission to the rest, partly because he wanted the extra time to get his applications and essays together. This did not hurt him. A highly ranked student, he received 7 offers and felt he had plenty of good options, despite the fact that he had not pushed to make himself look especially eager to the schools that offered the Early Action option. The eagerness came out in the essays and long answers on the applications, in which he was able to express his specific interest in the various campuses.

My daughter applied through Regular Admission to both of her prospective schools, and was accepted to both. Again, it was the essays, the interview with an admissions officer, and her long list of extracurricular activities that wound-up counting for more than applying early.

MORE COLLEGE SEARCH ARTICLES: Submitting Applications, When Will I Hear If I'm In?, Wait List, When Must I Decide?, What If I Have Trouble Deciding?, Merit Aid, Need-Based Aid, Federal Need-Based Aid, Can I Ask For More Aid?, 529 Savings Accounts, Myths About The Cost, What Is Upromise?, The Best Way To Pay, College Troubles, College Depression, NCAA Athletics, Athletic Scholarships, The College Search Preface

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