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One Admissions Hack You Can't Afford to Ignore

If you hope to be admitted to a highly-selective college, the one thing you absolutely cannot do is delay.

For colleges with an Early Action or Early Decision process, the acceptance rate can be two to four times higher for early applicants.

Early Action* (EA)

For students who have already decided which school best suits their needs, Early Action (EA) is a no-brainer. It's about as straightforward as it sounds: students apply early, and the school provides an early admission decision, usually in December or January. There is no commitment on the part of the student to decide on the school before the standard national response date (May 1st). In a nutshell, you act early, and you reap the benefits.

*Some EA programs do come with additional restrictions; for instance, a school may employ a "Restrictive Early Action" or a "Single-Choice Early Action" program which may not allow students to apply to more than one EA opportunity. Notre Dame's Restrictive Early Action program is one example.

Early Decision (ED)

If your school offers Early Decision (ED), you should know that these plans do come with an obligation. Schools will typically require the early applications around November. When a student is accepted as an ED applicant, the university will provide an admission decision typically in or around December. Students will have an opportunity to review the offer and any financial aid that accompanies the offer. If the student accepts, the school will require that applications to other universities be withdrawn. Additionally, the school will expect a nonrefundable deposit within a short time of acceptance. So, if a student accepts the ED offer but doesn't attend the school, that money will be lost.

The Benefits

The biggest benefit to Early Action/Early Decision is that you increase your chances of acceptance. Additionally, though, a student who is accepted to school in December is one who isn't stressing about the school decision (while peers are probably anxious) and - if the decision is early enough* - one who isn't spending any more time applying to colleges. I think we can all agree that sending out applications and writing essays is a painful process, and it feels nice to be done.

*Most colleges won't notify applicants of acceptance until December 15, which leaves a scant two weeks to meet most other application deadlines. It's good, then, to ready a few additional essays and applications just in case.

Other Considerations

The main thing to keep in mind with EA/ED programs is that you should understand your obligations. The primary cost to applying to one school's EA/ED program is a straightforward opportunity cost - if a school has a restrictive program, you may be forfeiting your ability to apply to another school by applying to that one. So, if a student is uncertain which school is the right school, it's probably best not to apply via the EA/ED program.

It's important to discuss the details of a given program with the school's admissions office to help make sure you fully understand the program and to gain confidence to know that you are a good candidate with a reasonable chance of admission. Remember, the very selective schools still may only accept fewer than 20% of candidates, so if your chances are very slim, it is probably unwise to limit yourself to a single school. In the meantime, if you haven't narrowed your schools down to your favorite few yet, that should be a priority.

- Randy Biggs, Owner of Heritage College Prep



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