Why Applying Early to College is Vital

Early Decision Application, Early Action Application, Apply Early to College

Students who choose not to apply to college in the Early round are making a major blunder.

Many students and parents wonder if they should be applying Early Decision or Early Action or if they should be waiting until the Regular Decision round before submitting applications. The fact that students and parents even debate this issue drives us mad. If these students and parents wish to make one of the biggest mistakes in the highly selective college admissions process, by all means wait it out. Skip the Early Decision or Early Action round. See what happens. Or, choose to wisely apply to a reach school — but not an impossible reach — in the Early round and you’ll deploy the best strategy possible to earn admission to the best school possible.

What the Naysayers Say About Early Decision and Early Action

The refrain of the peanut gallery which stands firmly against applying to college in the Early Decision or Early Action round goes something like this: “With exception to recruited athletes, legacies, and the children of donors, among others, there is no competitive advantage to applying Early. While the statistics may indicate it’s easier to get in during the Early round, the statistics are deceiving because such a huge percentage of the Early pool is filled with these types of students. For the exceptional student who doesn’t fall into one of these categories, their odds will be better in the Regular Decision round when they’re not going to be up against so many recruited athletes, legacies, development cases, etc. And why should students have to commit to a school in the Early round when they can wait until the Regular Decision round when they get to weigh their options? They can even compare different financial aid offers in the Regular Decision round.”

At Ivy Coach, we would much prefer to bake apple pies than try to convince someone that they are wrong, that so much of what they’ve said is utter nonsense. But every sentence in the peanut gallery’s argument is, in no uncertain terms, utter nonsense. If they wish to hold firm to such beliefs, we wish them all the best. If you’re not going to listen to your lawyer, why seek counsel? If you’re not going to let your plumber fix your pipes but will instead try to fix that leaking sink all on your own, you’re all on your own. And that sink will likely keep leaking. But if they don’t want to have a leaky sink, then open up your minds and good things may come.

Why Early Decision and Early Action is the Best Strategy

Those statistics that the peanut gallery dismisses so flippantly are telling. For the Class of 2021, at the University of Pennsylvania, 22% of Early Decision applicants earned admission. In the Regular Decision round, 6.8% of applicants earned admission. For the same class at Dartmouth College,  27.8% of Early Decision applicants earned admission. In the Regular Decision round? 8.5% got in. And the trend is not only for schools with Early Decision policies. It’s also for schools with Early Action policies. For the Class of 2021 at Harvard, 14.5% of Single Choice Early Action applicants earned admission. In the Regular Decision round, a mere 3.4% of students earned admission. We can go on and on. But take a look at the statistics with your own eyes because the numbers, in this case, tell a story that cannot — and should not — be ignored.

Are there recruited athletes in the Early round? You bet. Are there legacies in the Early round? You bet. But these same critics of Early Decision and Early Action, many of whom suggest that these policies favor the privileged, fail to mention that many underrepresented minority applicants and first generation applicants tend to apply Regular Decision rather than in the Early round. And this is but one example of the tough pool of applicants a student will face in the Regular Decision round. How about the students who applied to too big of a reach in the Early round, like a Harvard, only to realize their mistake and set their sites on a Dartmouth in the Regular Decision round. Now, that student who didn’t apply Early to her top choice, Dartmouth, because she didn’t see the value in applying Early Decision, well she’s now up against an applicant with perfect grades and perfect scores. Good luck to her! Fingers crossed.

We understand that some data can be misleading but the Early Decision and Early Action data is not misleading. It tells an important story. And to the peanut gallery which suggests students should have the option of deciding which college is best for them, they have that option — in October. Students have to commit to one school in the end anyway. They might as well commit Early when the odds are much more in their favor. As for weighing financial aid offers, plug your numbers into the Net Price Calculator online. You can figure out what kind of money you will or won’t get from a school. You don’t have to wait until Regular Decision notifications go out in March. That’s just silly.

We hope we’ve converted the skeptics of Early Decision and Early Action. And if we haven’t converted those who are utterly convinced that applying Early Action or Early Decision isn’t in their interest, well, we have no interest in trying to change your tune. We’d prefer to go bake an apple pie. And for any newbie reader of our college admissions blog, like in the hit sitcom “How I Met Your Mother,” we have recurring expressions on our blog like our love of baking apple pies. Accept it. We’re weird. Our students at Ivy Coach are too. It’s one of the key reasons why they so often get in.


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  • ivy says:

    You raise a very good point. Should a very top student who is not a prodigy/has no major awards etc, aim for the crapshoot of HYPS SCEA or be strategic and go for ED at elite but slightly more attainable schools like Columbia, Penn, Duke, Dartmouth etc ?

    • david says:

      My daughter, an international applicant, applied EA to Princeton. But she didn’t get in and was instead deferred to the RA round. As we knew all about the odds of EA/ED over RD it was quite a blow. Having squandered her EA chance we knew she was destined to face truly bad odds. There was little time for recrimination though, and in a panic she quickly applied RD to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, Brown, Dartmouth and Duke.

      My child is smart but I don’t think she is a prodigy and she had no major awards. But she did have truly impressive test scores (36 ACT, 800 SAT MATH II, 780 BIO), a 3.9 unweighted GPA, and most everything else that you’d expect to go with it. She had also led quite an interesting life and so we were actually surprised when she didn’t get in SCEA. You might laugh at us because no-one with an ounce of sense should have been surprised but we were. We knew we had made a mistake and we thought with hindsight that indeed we should have been more strategic in targeting a more attainable school. We had considered doing exactly as you suggest but had decided that if it worked it meant settling for the wrong school when our daughter was adamant about Princeton (because of the ED vs EA policies). Despite our best laid plans we ended up in RD with everyone else.

      Waiting was tough but then everything started to come together. Somehow the more attainable schools knew she was going to be popular and she got early acceptances, likely letters, scholarships, invitations to special scholars programs, etc. It took the pressure off but she still had her heart set on Princeton. And we heard not a word from HY or P until March 30 when we opened the letter from Princeton and saw the tiger. Everybody talks about that moment and it is certainly something to remember.

      In the end she was accepted RD to 6 of the 8 top schools she applied to (she did not get into Harvard and was wait listed at Yale which she declined). She only cared that she had been accepted RD to Princeton and today I think she is probably the proudest Tiger on campus. When she was 11 she had wanted to go to Harvard but over time, and after years of research, she set her sights on Princeton knowing it was the right school for her. It turns out she was right – I’ve never seen her so happy.

      But some of us like small towns, some big cities or even rural campuses. You should consider the student to teacher ratios, class sizes, graduate and/or undergraduate focus, are the kids sports crazy or are they academically focused? There are so many unique school identities, each campus has a feel and each school is very different. What about politics, or other stuff, there is so much more to know? There is a right school for every person – in fact probably a few of them – but there are definitely wrong schools too. Imagine getting in to Harvard or Princeton and then finding out it is not what you hoped it was and you are simply not happy. What do you do? Princeton, for instance, is not for everyone. In fact I sometimes think my daughter is crazy because she knowingly chose, and I qualify this with, perhaps, the most difficult academics in America. I would not have done that, but she loves it.

      So this is job #1. Find the schools that go beyond a match – it’s a feel thing. Then when applying you can decide how much of a chance to take to go for what you really want. The odds of gaining admission are certainly an important factor to understand but it must be factored into an honest evaluation of all the other factors. If you don’t figure out which schools are the best match then none of the other stuff really matters and if you do figure it out it will all come into focus.

      So do your homework and I wish you the best of luck. I know, from experience, that it will eventually all work out. Wherever one ends up, college is almost always the best 4 years of your life.

      BTW – even though my daughter wasn’t accepted EA, I still think EA was critical in getting her into her top choice school as, if it did nothing else, it demonstrated her commitment to Princeton as her number 1. She took a chance and followed her dream and they knew it. If she had applied EA at Harvard instead, I think she may have gained admittance to Harvard and that EA alone could have made the difference. You have to decide how best to place your chips and with 30K to 40K top students applying to HYP schools these days, it is indeed a crap shoot. Yet the more research you do the better off you will be.

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