Should a student apply to college early? How early? What are the pros and cons of applying early? Many colleges promote early decision, early action, or early notification because these help the college spend less time per incoming freshman student. From an admissions point of view, early decision, early action, or early notification is desirable. Some even argue that these actions are mandatory in the process of a senior going to college.
An Early Decision application means that the student enters into a binding agreement with a college that he will not apply to any other school. If the college decides to admit the student, then he and the college are bound to follow through. The student usually has to submit a deposit, which he forfeits if he changes his mind. The good side of an early decision application for the student is that he knows by mid-December whether or not he has been accepted to, and what financial aid offer he has received from, the college.
There are, however, several negative aspects to this type of application. One is that a student gives up any bargaining power with the financial aid office if his award offer is not sufficient to cover his need. Another negative is that if the student is not accepted to that college, he has to rush to complete applications to other colleges by the end of December during the holiday season (recommended at least six). It is also possible that the rejection of the student can cause him to have a negative attitude toward college in general. However, some students will still want to take their chances with the college and the potential financial aid offer.
The senior year of high school has enough pressure as it is. A student should be aware that if he can academically be accepted at his college of choice, then early decision is not necessary to get in, and may hurt him from a financial point of view.
An Early Action application is sometimes called a non-binding decision application and means that the student can find out early if he has been accepted, but he is not bound to go to that college. He will receive his financial aid offer in the spring. He can still apply to other colleges (recommend at least six). This shows initiative and will not hurt his financial aid offer from a bargaining point of view. Early action is therefore a good plan of action from a financial and admissions standpoint.
An Early Notification application means that a college mails its acceptance letters as soon as the admissions committee makes its decision to accept. The student’s full awards offer may or may not be attached with the acceptance letter. Many colleges send their academic awards with this acceptance letter but this is not the full award offer.
The only down side to this option is that a college may ask the student to make a decision quickly after receiving this acceptance letter. There may be a statement on the acceptance that reads, “Please respond in two weeks to the college”. If a college asks for this type of response, the student should call and request an extension from the college so that he can look at all of the rest of his financial aid offers before making a decision. When he calls for an extension, he should record the date he called and to whom he spoke.
From a financial point of view, the best option is the early action decision. By applying to at least six colleges, early action creates a number of options for a family. The admissions edge that comes with applying early, combined with a variety of financial aid offers, makes for a beneficial family decision-making process.