There are some advantages to applying early decision or early action to your top-choice college, however, when developing an application strategy it’s important to know when it’s appropriate to apply in the early round – and when you should hold off.
For many students the main appeal of applying in the early round is receiving an admission decision by December. The admission rates in the early application pool also tend to be higher, even though the pool is typically more competitive than the regular round.
Because the early round is full of extremely competitive applicants, it’s not the best choice for everyone. It’s tempting to apply early in order to know your admission decisions early and possibly have the college admissions process completed well before everyone else, but applying early when you shouldn’t can really work against you.
Every applicant is different, but there are certain circumstances where students should reconsider their application strategy. These are the five types of applicants who shouldn’t apply early decision or early action to their top-choice college.
The One Whose Grades Aren’t Where They Need To Be
Grades are the most important factor that college admissions officers consider when evaluating applications. It’s necessary to have a strong GPA and junior year performance in order to be competitive in the early applicant pool. If you struggled a bit during your junior year, you’ll need to improve your grades during the first semester of senior year in order to show an upward grade trend and improve your chances of admission in the regular round. But waiting to apply regular decision is only beneficial if you plan to bring up your grades during the fall. It’s important to have a firm understanding of how your applicant profile stacks up to previously admitted students, and if your grades are not competitive, you may need to reevaluate your college list and application strategy.
The One Who Needs To Take the SAT or ACT Again
A perfect SAT or ACT score alone won’t guarantee you admission to your top-choice colleges, but it is necessary in order to avoid the “no” pile when admissions officers are initially reviewing your application. If you have a strong application, but your test scores just aren’t where they need to be yet, don’t apply early with the hopes of the scores from your fall testing arriving in time. Take some time to really prep for the SAT or ACT again, and consider adding some test-optional or test-flexible colleges and universities to your college list.
The One Who Hasn’t Visited Yet
Visiting colleges is an important part of the college research process, so if you haven’t visited your early decision or early action college yet, you need to. College visits are a good gut-check. You can do careful research about a college and fall in love with what you learn online, but you can step on campus and just not feel at home. It’s normal! It’s also important to submit a really strong application that demonstrates your knowledge of the school and why it’s your top-choice and a good fit for you. Not only will visiting further demonstrate your interest in attending, but it will also help you put together the best application possible should they ask school-specific essay questions.
College-bound students also need to keep in mind that early decision options are binding, so you really need to be sure that’s the institution you want to attend before applying. A visit can help you know for sure if that school is a good fit for you or not.
The One Who Hasn’t Started On Their Application Yet
Deciding the week before early applications are due is not the time to start on your essays and to ask for recommendation letters. A last-minute application can be sloppy or incomplete, and with a competitive early round pool, you can’t afford to make any mistakes. It takes time to put together a comprehensive and compelling application, and admissions officers can tell when an application is rushed or an afterthought. Rather than rush to get an early application done before midnight on the deadline, take your time to put together a really strong regular round application.
The One Who Isn’t 100% Sure The School Is Their Top-Choice
As we mentioned before, admission in the early decision round is binding, meaning that you have committed to attend if you are admitted. This is a big deal, as getting out of your early decision commitment, for reasons other than insufficient financial aid, can really affect your reputation at other institutions to which you apply. If you plan on applying early decision to a college, but you’re having second thoughts, go with your gut! Don’t apply unless you’re 100% sure that’s where you want to attend.
Deciding whether to apply early decision or early action is one of the most important things that seniors will do this college admissions season. Having a firm understanding of the different application options, what they require, and how you can use them to your advantage is key to a successful college application process.
If you need help putting the finishing touches on your early applications, or want some advice on whether or not applying early decision or early action is a good option for you, our team of expert counselors can help you put your best foot forward when applying to college this fall. Contact us today for more information on our services for high school seniors.