If you find a college that seems ideal for you, consider applying early.
Successful “early applicants” are accepted into college well in advance of most of their peers and can enjoy a relatively stress-free second semester.
Often, students who apply early have a significantly higher likelihood of admission. Colleges tend to prefer early applicants because they are generally more likely to attend.
Experts will tell you that admissions officers focus on yield (percentage of students who accept their offer of admission) and generally prefer a well-qualified applicant considered likely to attend over an exceptionally qualified candidate who would probably choose not to enroll. Since many early application programs are binding (i.e. the student agrees to attend if accepted during the early round) or limiting (e.g. the student is not required to attend if admitted, but agrees not to apply to any other early application programs), early applicants positively contribute to the school’s yield.
Many colleges offer one or more early application options.
Keep in mind that early application plans are not all the same — even if they have the same name (e.g. Early Action, Early Decision) there are nuances and different rules for different schools. Make sure you understand the policies and obligations before sending off your applications.
Early Decision plans are almost always single choice (i.e. you agree not to apply “early” to any other schools) and binding (i.e. you agree to attend the college if you are accepted “early”).
Generally, if you’re accepted early decision, you are required to withdraw all other applications. Early Action plans are typically not binding. Some colleges offer a new option — Single Choice Early Action. This option is similar to other Early Action plans, but the student agrees not to apply “early” to any other school.
Keep in mind that you should ONLY apply Early Decision if you are positive you want to attend and have your credentials (e.g. application, recommendations, grades, entrance exam scores) in order.
Many students decide to forgo early application plans to give themselves additional time to improve their grades or entrance exam scores.
If financial aid is an issue, and you wish to compare financial aid packages before deciding on a college, then Early Decision is probably not a good option for you.
Some colleges, including Harvard, have discontinued their early application programs due to concern that these plans disadvantage students who rely on financial aid.
Hundred of colleges and universities throughout the United States offer early admission plans. College web sites, guide books and some of the college search tools often provide this information. Check out InLikeMe Web Links: College Search Engines and College Search and Selection.
Lynn Radlauer Lubell, Publisher of InLikeMe.com and Founder of Admission By Design, an Educational Consultancy based in Boca Raton, Florida.