Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Early Decision or Not? Some Thoughts, Advice, and Stats

Should I apply Early Decision or not?

Early Decision, by definition, is where you apply to one school, and if you are admitted, you are in a binding agreement to matriculate the following fall.

Now schools like Stanford, Princeton, Harvard, Yale and Boston College are offering Single Choice Early Action (SCEA), which just means that you can only apply to one school, but it's non-binding, which means you can say No to that one school, even if they say Yes to you. It also means that you have a greater length of time to decide (May 1).

So ED or SCEA - it's a common question I receive from anxious seniors in the fall.

My answer is always the same. That depends.

It depends, for one, on the degree of interest in that school. If your heart meter registers a 10 (on a 1-10 scale; 1 = "Bartleby"-level interest; 10="Rome and Juliet"-level passion) every time you think or talk about that school - then Yes, applying ED might be the appropriate decision.

But if your heart meter registers an 8, 9, or 10 with other schools too. Then you might not.

But there are also hash realities about the state of college admissions right now. Not everywhere, certainly. But at the top. Yes. Unless you've been living in an igloo in remote Alaska for the past five years, you know that the volume of applications to selective/highly selective colleges have skyrocketed. More high school graduates than ever before. More international applicants than ever before. More pressure on colleges to "raise their ranking" in popular magazines. The "attract-to-reject" marketing strategic formula could look something like this:

Higher app volume + Lower acceptance % = Higher US News & World Report: College Edition ranking (which means higher bonds rating, which then means more money to build more climbing walls, which means higher tuition rates...)

This is just the way things are at schools on the first and second page of that magazine, along with a couple others. So therefore, if you just look at the raw data, it's easy for the pragmatist and strategist in you to deduce that to apply ED gives you your best chance at gaining admission. It may not get you the best financial aid package, but it gives you the best chance to get a golden ticket in.

But also remember that though the fish bowl may be smaller, the fish in that bowl are that much brighter.

Here are just a few statistics I pulled from The Princeton Review: The Best 376 Colleges (2011 Edition) concerning ED applications/admits last year:

School ED app. Accept %/#

Brown 2803 22%
Duke 1482 32%
Rice 1214 25%
Columbia 2921 40%
Vanderbilt 2150 32%
Stanford (SCEA) 4860 753
Dartmouth 1574 29%
Northwestern 1395 40%
Richmond 585 40%
Williams 538 40%
Amherst 440 34%
American 565 73%
Boston U 897 44%
Bowdoin 740 31%
NYU 2854 39%

The news for early admissions for the Class of 2016 from the NYT is what most of us predicted. Gloom and more gloom. To see the numbers for yourself (if you haven't already done so) click here.

A colleague of mine at a high powered independent school in the northeast texted me that after speaking with their Ivy reps, their college counseling office is bracing for all the "non-athlete" applicants (and there a bunch of them) to get the defer or deny letter. Translation: the athletes get to eat first at the Ivies. The rest will have to wait until the spring.

So that is either good news if you can throw a ball or dunk a basketball or run really fast. But for those students who have solid academic and resume credentials only, it may not be as encouraging.

Now we must all wait and see.

And take deep breaths.

And say long prayers.

And make sure that you have a Plan B.

And Plan C.

And maybe a Plan D.