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Does applying early to college make sense?

Ready or not, the college application season has begun. And early or not is the question.

I know I’m not the only one who feels the college application process seems to be creeping earlier each year. There used to be a uniformity among colleges and their deadlines. For the most part, applications were due in January of the senior year, and students were notified in March or April. When colleges recognized that many students ended up choosing to attend the first college that accepted them, they started a domino effect with earlier and earlier notifications, and with that have come earlier application deadlines.

Early admissions is made of up of three distinct programs: Early Action, Early Decision and, because a handful of colleges insist on making the process even more complicated, we now have something called “Single Choice Early Action” or “Restricted Early Action.” Many other schools operate with a “rolling admissions” process that reviews applications as they come in and they notify students on an ongoing basis.

Early action

Early Action is a great option for the well-prepared student who has a solid transcript and has taken the necessary standardized tests. Students apply early and are allowed to apply Early Action to as many colleges as they choose, except for the handful of colleges with the Single Choice Early Action program. The biggest benefit for students is that they are notified early, in most cases before Jan. 1. Roughly 15 percent of colleges and universities offer an Early Action option.

Oct. 15 is now the first deadline for many colleges and universities. This movement towards earlier deadlines is especially popular in the southeast with many of the large public flagships universities leading the way. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), North Carolina State University, University of South Carolina and University of Georgia and Georgia Tech all sport an Oct. 15 Early Action deadline. Except for UNC, which notifies Early Action applicants by the end of January, students hear back before Christmas.

Early decision

Early Decision is binding; students who are accepted must withdraw their other applications and are bound to attend that school. Students are allowed to apply to just one school Early Decision. Early Decision deadlines are typically Nov. 1, with notification by mid-December.

There is a lot of folklore surrounding the perceived added benefits of applying Early Decision. Just how much likelier is an acceptance for a student who applies Early Decision rather than Regular Decision is highly variable. In some cases there is big jump in acceptance rates, and at other colleges it is not significant at all. Parents and students need to keep in mind that the higher rates of acceptance with Early Decision can often be attributed to a variety of factors. Typically the strongest students are applying early, and they would have been accepted in Regular Decision as well. Athletes, legacies and students with focused interests are encouraged to apply Early Decision, and these factors often skew the numbers

Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. Visit her website College Admissions Strategies.

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