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4 Things To Keep In Mind When Applying Early to College

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by CollegeVine co-founder, Vinay Bhaskara in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


What’s Covered:



Three Strategies for Early Applications


For early applicants in the undergraduate admissions process, there are three main strategies you can use for your college applications. First, you can apply Restrictive Early Action (REA) or Single Choice Early Action to your top choice college, and then apply Early Action (EA) or rolling admissions at public colleges.


Option number two is applying Early Decision (ED) to your top choice college and then EA to other public and private colleges. The third option is to apply EA to your top choice college as well as to other public and private colleges. So obviously REA or Single Choice is the most limiting admissions policy, as it limits your ability to apply early to other colleges in accordance with the restrictions outlined by your top choice’s policy.


Consequently, the best strategy for you will really depend on the available early admissions policy (or policies) at your top schools.


What is Your First Choice School?


When it comes to college admissions, everyone’s situation is different. That said, while there are always some exceptions, generally speaking you should apply ED to your top choice college if it is offered.


Because ED offers such a large benefit, it usually makes sense when applying to your dream school. But this decision should not be made lightly. If you choose to apply ED, be sure that you’re willing to commit because if you’re accepted, your application becomes a binding agreement with that school. ED waivers are incredibly difficult to come by, even in the event of financial difficulty, so it’s very important that you do your research and weigh your options and the feasibility of attending your dream school before applying ED.


What Are Your Chances?


As you apply, you’ll also need to be aware of your chances of admission. Since applying early is a multiplier, the benefit of applying early is higher when your overall chances of admission are higher. To help illustrate this, let’s look at a quick example:


On average, applying ED is going to result in a 1.6x or a 60% increase in your chances of admission. The benefit becomes less pronounced the less selective the school is. So if your chances before choosing to apply early were 4% that would bump your chances up to 6.4%, which is a pretty meaningful increase of about 2.4 extra percentage points. (By the way, if you want to see how applying early impacts your chances, we recommend using our free chancing calculator).


It’s worth noting that while the example above reflects the impact of applying ED, there is still a benefit to applying EA to your top choice school. While EA has a lower multiplier effect, it can still have an impact on your application depending on your chances of admission at your choice school. 


Of course, there isn’t always a single top choice. For those with two to three top choice schools, but who would like to take advantage of the ED benefit, we recommend applying to the school where you have the highest chance of admission. So keep your chances in mind as you’re thinking about your early application strategy.


How Your Financial Aid Package Might Be Impacted


Students often wonder how applying early will impact their financial aid and scholarship opportunities. Though not always the case, as a general rule of thumb if you apply ED or REA, you’re going to get less aid.


The reasoning here is pretty simple. Students who apply and are accepted ED have a binding application, so you’re less likely to receive scholarship money, and you’re less likely to receive financial aid from schools that don’t meet a hundred percent of demonstrated need because you’re already committed to attending. 


If you apply EA, on the other hand, you’ll likely get more money from colleges, especially merit scholarships as your application is non-binding. Consequently, from a college’s perspective, awarding more scholarship money will make an EA applicant even more likely to choose them.


Keeping the Overall Process in Mind


While thinking through your early admissions strategy, it’s important to remember that submitting multiple early applications has a cost. Applying to college takes time, and each additional application reduces the amount of time you can put into any one application when it comes to producing quality application materials, particularly when it comes to writing supplemental essays.


This becomes even more apparent when schools on your college list do not use the Common App, such as the UC school system or MIT. So keep in mind how much time you’re truly able to dedicate to completing high quality applications for each school while balancing your current coursework and extracurricular activities; the more colleges you apply to early, the more pressure you’re putting on yourself. 


Still undecided about early admissions? Check out this post to learn more about the different application types and which makes the most sense for you!