When it comes to getting admitted to college does the early bird really get the worm (read acceptance letter!)? Read on to get the scoop from Katie Paden, Assistant Director of Admission for Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, GA, and Bryan Hamann, Admission Counselor for the University of Evansville (IN).
What are the biggest advantages of applying Early Action or Early Decision?
Katie: There is a lot of lingo used in college admission, so it’s great to understand what schools mean by “Early Action.” This is an option for admission that typically has a deadline in the fall semester of 12th grade, asking students to complete their applications by a particular date (often in October-December). That’s half of the “early” part – early action by the student. Then, the college or university typically notifies the student of her admission status during the winter (December-February), sooner than it communicates with other applicants. That’s the second half of the “early” part – the college reads the file and takes action early, too. The student still has all the way up until May 1 to decide about enrollment and to receive information about financial aid, scholarships, etc. (versus Early Decision where a student agrees to enroll no matter what, as soon as she is accepted).
I would say that for a student, the biggest advantage of Early Action is that she gets to relax and set some college expectations sooner during 12th grade. She will have gotten the application finished and out of the way, and she will also have received her admission decision. That gives her and her family plenty of time to ask questions, pursue financial aid and scholarships, visit the campus, etc., all while knowing that this particular school has already said “yes” and is a realistic option for the fall.
For us colleges, a big advantage of Early Action is that we get to hear from our most interested applicants earlier in the admission cycle. We start to get a better idea of what our incoming freshman class will look like. Also, after sending admission decisions, we have plenty of time in the winter and spring to communicate about scholarships, financial aid, housing, orientation, etc. We feel good knowing that students and families can start asking questions and making plans sooner, rather than waiting until late spring to receive a lot of information all at once, which requires a quicker turnaround on decision-making. Some Early Action admitted students wait until May 1 to submit their enrollment deposit, but others feel ready to make their choice sooner and may submit their deposit in the winter or spring.
Are a student’s chances of being accepted better if she applies early, since the number of applicants is smaller?
Bryan: I have found that motivated students comprise the majority of the University’s early action applicants; therefore, those students are more likely to be admissible and eligible for the higher end merit based scholarships.
Are early applicants less likely to receive scholarships?
Katie: Each college’s approach to scholarships will vary a little bit, but at Oglethorpe this is a complete misconception. We are a small liberal arts college with a holistic review process, and we give the same scholarship consideration to students no matter whether they apply before or after the Early Action deadline. In fact, on our campus, Early Action applications get additional scholarship consideration, because the only students we invite to compete for full-tuition awards at our winter Scholarship Weekend are those who applied Early Action.
Is there a circumstance under which you would NOT encourage a student to apply Early Action or Early Decision?
Katie: If a student knows she is interested in a school and is on target for its admission criteria, Early Action almost always makes sense. In other words, there is no penalty or drawback to applying, and there are several advantages. I would ONLY encourage a student to apply Early Decision if she feels confident that that college is her first choice, and if she and her family have a reasonably specific idea of how the college will help them afford the cost of attendance. Early Decision is a legally binding contract and carries a real commitment if accepted.