July 21, 2016

The Origins of Early Decision: And What it Means for Your Student

When a student in the 1970s sat down to fill out their college applications the process looked much different than it did today. With pen and paper, the student would painstakingly fill out their applications while hunched over at the kitchen table. The process would take hours and students typically only applied to 3 or 4 schools.

Today the process looks quite different of course, because of the Common Application.

The Common App is convenient, but takes away an important signal colleges relied on.

The Common App began in 1975 at first with only 15 schools participating. Students could fill out one form, photocopy it, and mail it to any school that was involved in the endeavor.

By 1998 the common app was online and hundreds of colleges were involved including Ivy Leagues such as Harvard and Yale.

The Common App has indeed revolutionized the way students apply to college. In many ways, this is a boon to students and colleges alike, as forms are standardized, easy to submit, and free for students.

The Downsides to the Common App

However, the Common App in solving some problems has created others. Students have no incentive to narrow down their list to the schools that are really best for them, instead they simply check a box frequently applying for 10-20 colleges or more!

While schools enjoy increased visibility and amount of applicants, the have no way of knowing which of those applicants are actually serious candidates. The percentage of accepted students who actually end up enrolling declines every year.

Enter Early Decision and Early Action Options

Students applying early decision have made an extensive commitment to the school. They have taken the trouble to get their application in early, they have made as much commitment as they can to actually attending if they are accepted.

This can have a serious impact on the chance of admissions, especially for competitive schools. College admissions officers are much more likely to accept a student that has expressed serious interest in the school (by applying early) even if they are not as qualified as students who apply later. The fact that the students is more of a sure thing makes them extremely valuable.

Is it Right for Your Student?

Applying early is a good idea for your student if:

  • They are sure of what college they want to attend.
  • They are organized enough to be able to complete their application by October.
  • They are applying to a competitive school and could use an edge to get accepted.

Make sure you pay attention to the type of early application process your student is pursuing.

Early decision means:

  • Your student chooses one school to apply early.
  • Your student commits to attending the school if accepted and if the financial aid package is affordable.
  • If you end up deciding the financial aid package is not affordable you can make an appeal to the school, or you can reject the offer.
  • If not accepted your student will need to submit applications to their backup schools on time.

Early action means: 

  • Your student can choose several colleges to apply to early.
  • Upon acceptance you can say yes right away, wait, or decline.

Single-choice early action means:

  • Your student can choose only one school to apply early.
  • Your student is free to apply to other colleges for regular decision.
  • Upon acceptance, you can say yes, wait or decline.

Rolling admission means:

  • Your student can apply as early or as late as they want as long as the school is still accepting applications.
  • Applying early signals to the college your student is a serious candidate.
  • Students will get their answers from the school earlier.


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