Wading Through the College Application Options

Back when most of us who now have kids in high school applied to college there was a single application deadline for everyone and a date when you and everyone else found out if you were accepted.

While the vast majority of colleges still offer that option, many colleges offer additional application timelines. Today, you will see some schools offering Regular Decision, Rolling Admission, Early Action and/or Early Decision. Depending on the schools your student applies to, they may be faced with some or all these options. From the applicant’s viewpoint there are pros and cons to each.

You might be asking, where did these additional options come from? Early Action and Early Decision options were created by colleges looking to bring more certainty to the eventual size of each freshman class they enrolled.

Colleges get a certain number of applications and expect to accept a percentage of those. This is their acceptance rate and they control that. What they don’t control is their yield rate, or the percentage of accepted students that choose to enroll. This creates problems because they do not know if they will have too few or too many students. Early application options help them lock in some of their freshman class earlier bringing more certainty.

Starting with the simplest option, Regular Decision, an applicant applies by the school’s deadline, often in December or January. In turn, the college gives them an answer (acceptance, waitlist or rejection) usually sometime in March. At around this time, the college also tells you what financial aid or scholarships, if any, they will offer. Accepted students have until May 1 to decide which college to attend.

Regular Decision is offered by just about all colleges, except a relatively small number that offer Rolling Admissions instead. Rolling Admission is like Regular Decision except there are not specific application deadlines. College with Rolling Admissions accept applications at any point and give yes/no decisions as applications come in. They continue to review applications until they deem their freshman class to be full. In some cases, this could be right into August before college starts.

If a college on your list uses this methodology, it is often a good idea to apply early so that, hopefully, you can get an acceptance early in your senior year to reduce stress. Having an early admission can also help determine how many other colleges to apply to if you are happy with first admit.

Examples of some New England colleges that offer Rolling Admissions are Quinnipiac, University of Maine, Keene State, Franklin Pierce, Plymouth State, Southern New Hampshire and any community college.

Roughly 20% of four-year colleges, about 450, offer some sort of early application option, be it Early Decision or Early Action or both. These colleges also offer Regular Decision or Rolling Admissions as options.

Under Early Action, the student applies a couple of months earlier than under Regular Decision and gets their answer a couple of months earlier. While it varies, most colleges offering Early Action have application deadlines in early November with notification of decisions in December. Accepted students still have until May 1 to decide which college to attend.

In general, if the student is ready to apply and has the Early Action option they should take advantage of it. By getting earlier answers from some colleges they may adjust their overall application strategy. If for example, the are rejected by schools early, they might then add more to the list. Conversely, if they are accepted, then they might drop some schools from the list.

One thing to bear in mind about Early Action is that not all schools will have their financial aid offer ready at the same time as the admissions decision, so applicants who need financial aid should wait to see that information before deciding.

When a student applies Early Action, they will get one of three decisions – they can be accepted, rejected outright or be deferred for consideration as part of the Regular Decision pool.

Examples of colleges that offer the Early Action option include University of New Hampshire, Boston College, Harvard, Yale, University of Massachusetts, University of Rhode Island and St. Anselm’s College.

Early Decision is like Early Action in that students apply early and get an answer early. However, an important difference is that if a student is accepted under Early Decision, then they are obligated to attend that school. Further, the applicant may not have their financial aid offer at that point. Thus, it is only recommended to apply Early Decision if the applicant is confident that they can afford the college.

That said, the applicant can petition to get out of the commitment if, when they eventually get their financial aid offer, they believe the school is unaffordable. Students are only allowed to apply to one school under Early Decision and if accepted by that school they must withdraw all other applications.

Examples of colleges that offer Early Decision include Dartmouth, Boston University, Tufts, Holy Cross, Northeastern and most of the NESCAC liberal arts colleges. A benefit of Early Decision is that the acceptance rate is often higher than that of Regular Decision and sometimes higher than Early Action.

There are also options called Single Choice Early Action and Restricted Early Action that are like Early Action, but with the restriction that the student can only apply early to that one college. This option is offered by a small number of colleges.

This article is part of a weekly series by the Londonderry Times in collaboration with Maureen O’Dea, Director of School Counseling at Londonderry High School.

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