Ellen’s Early Decision predicament

September 14, 2006 at 1:39 am Leave a comment

Posted by Dee

AdmitSpit recently received a great, and quite provocative, question from Ellen. I say provocative in that I had trouble coming up with an easy response. Here was the question posed to me:

“What is your opinion on early action? Do you waste it on a top school with a 10% admit [rate], or go for it with a 20th ranked school?”

I think I have found an answer I am satisfied with, although it may not quite satisfy the poser of the query. I would respond, “It depends on who you are, and how you present yourself in your application.”

Realistically, to get into a top school, for the most part, you need to be a top student. (Exceptions may be if you’re an athlete with sports recruitment opportunities or if you’re part of an “underrepresented demographic.”)

So, are you a top student? Do you have SAT (or ACT) scores and an academic record comparable to what that top school with a 10% admission rate expects and accepts? Will you get the AdComm’s attention with unique personal characteristics, extracurriculars, and hobbies? Will your teacher recommendations be stellar? Do you have enough honors or recognitions to place you at comparable or above-average status with fellow applicants for the top school?

If your truly objective answers to each one of these questions are “yes,” my recommendation would be to go ahead and apply to that top ranked school with the 10% acceptance rate. After all, if you’d answered yes to all these questions, I would conclude that you seem to be in good standing for acceptance to the 20th ranked university, so if you were simply to chicken out of applying to the top school, that is when you’d truly be “wasting” the great benefit applying early may bring.

It seems logical to next discuss my recommendation for if you had answered negatively or unconfidently to most of the above questions, but instead, I’d like to bring up several issues that, I hope, will allow you to form your own conclusion for your ideal course of action.

1. Who said you could only apply to one school early? In the way you phrased the question, Ellen, it appears to me that you are limiting your options. All applicants considering following an early application process NEED to look into the specifics of their early action contract(s). Some schools have Early Decision. Some have Early Action. Some have Single-Choice Early Action. Some have another hybrid or unconventional offering.

For this reason, there may be a crucial, and convenient, opportunity for those of you who share Ellen’s predicament. Let me give an example. The University of Pennsylvania, easily considered a top school, has an Early Decision process. In UPenn’s Early Decision policy, it clearly stipulates that an applicant cannot apply Early Decision anywhere else once they submit an application early to UPenn. But, that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t still apply to the University of Michigan (ranked 24th of all national universities, and 2nd of all public US universities, by US News and World Report), where your admission decision would be made as early as November. AND, don’t just stop there. Meanwhile, you could also apply to Rice University, ranked 17th by US News, under their “Interim Decision Plan” designed for students who want early notification as well as the three, “accept, defer, deny,” decision possibilities. Furthermore, you could still apply to MIT or CIT through early action, both of which are ranked within the top 5 of all national universities.

2. Why are you applying to that top school early? Much of the point of Early Decision is to provide students who really want to go to a particular school the opportunity to concretely demonstrate just that. Ellen, if this top school with the 10% admit rate is indeed your first choice, or nearly your first choice, that could indeed be a strong push towards applying early for you.

3. What are the outcomes of applying early? During the regular admission process, you get either accepted or rejected (or waitlisted, but this is perhaps the subject of another blog post entirely). But, in applying early, it’s known that admit rates are higher than for the regular pool (granted, the applicant pool is stronger, but if you’re a strong candidate it’s not an issue), plus the AdComm defers many students as well. I see being deferred as positive in that it guarantees that the AdComm will give your application another look; this indeed benefits many students, and this isn’t necessarily a factor to overlook in shaping your decision.

4. Do you need or want to have your senior grades seen by the AdComm? Depending on the strength of your academic record in high school thus far, you may want the AdComm to see the grades you obtain in your first semester of senior year. If you didn’t perform particularly well at the start of high school and your grades are on the rise this year, this would constitute a strong reason not to apply early. A stronger academic record when applying through regular admission is known to be better than trying to apply early with weaker grades. Remember though, if you apply early and get deferred, the AdComm will want to see your grades, so even if you do apply early, don’t view that as license to slack.

I hope this post is indeed helpful in shaping your decision regarding whether or not to apply early. After all, there really is no “right” answer. Never overlook your gut feeling, but I think most of the issues brought up in this post are essential to the debate. Good luck, and if there’s any other questions, clarifications, concerns, etc. you may have, please don’t hesitate to comment.


Entry filed under: Academics, Accepted, ACT, Admissions, AdmitSpit, Athletics, Caltech, CIT, College trends, Colleges/Universities, Defer, Early action, Early decision, Grades, MIT, Ranking, Regular decision, Rejected, Rice, SAT, Sports, Teacher, Testing, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, UPenn, Waitlist.

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