The Envelope, Please....

Over the next few weeks, seniors will be anxiously attending their mailboxes, eagerly awaiting the delivery of the proverbial “thick envelope” as colleges begin sending out their first round of early admissions decisions. However, for many students, applying early isn’t in their best interests for a variety of reasons. The college process, when done well with care and thought, can be quite a time consuming process and many seniors simply haven’t had the time to do research and to visit campuses in order to make a well-informed decision by the early deadlines. For those who are just reaching their academic stride, the opportunity to include an additional term of higher grades will make their application all that much stronger. Not all students who rush to meet the early deadlines are doing so for the right reasons and those students feel compelled to apply early “just to get the process over with” often rue their hasty decision.

Why all this pressure on students to apply early? From the college’s perspective, early application options are useful tools to increase their selectivity as well as to manage their applicant pool. Many students’ inboxes are being flooded with pleas from colleges to apply, often with enticements that make this process as straightforward as possible. The math is simple – the more applications they receive, the lower their percentage of accepted students. If they can target students with high SAT scores, so much the better – that will raise the average standardized test scores of their applicants. In these ways, schools begin to appear more competitive.

The selectivity of a college is based on their yield – that is the number of admitted students who actually matriculate at their school. The higher the yield, the more selective the school’s ranking. While Early Decision applicants are committed to attending, even Early Action candidates are more likely to accept an offer of admission. Thus, a college can improve its yield numbers by offering early application opportunities.

Although some of the most talented students are in the early pools, some colleges use early applications for other strategic reasons. Often recruited athletes are asked to apply early decision to demonstrate their sincere interest in playing. Early decision also meets other institutional needs, such as legacies who might not be as competitive in the regular pool, but are accepted early because they are more likely to yield.

Without question, early applications can work to the college’s advantage and for the student who applies with care and thought, this is a tremendous opportunity. However, it is important to remember that of the 2,000 four year colleges in the country, only about 350 reject more students than they accept. The frenzy around submitting early applications is driven by only the most selective schools and it’s important that students use this opportunity to their advantage, not the college’s.