By Belinda Gonzalez-Leon, Ed.D.
Most high school seniors applying to college will submit applications by January 1, 2017. However, some students turned them in as early as November 1st! No, you did not miss a deadline. January 1st is the deadline for most regular decision applications, but if your student decided to apply Early Decision then the deadline was November 1st and an answer will arrive before Christmas!
Several colleges, not all, have an option to apply for admissions under a program called Early Action or Early Decision or some other similar name. It is important to understand each option that a school offers in regards to admissions and to carefully consider the best route for your student. Although it is possible that an early application option could offer better odds of acceptance, there are restrictions and risks that have to be weighed.
Early Decision typically entails that the student apply to only one school early and any other school under Regular Decision. If the student is accepted Early Decision, they must accept and withdraw their other college applications. Because fewer students apply via Early Decision, there is a higher rate of acceptance simply because the pool of applicants is smaller. However, the criteria is the same. Students who apply through Early Decision need to be absolutely sure that this is their number one choice for college and that they do indeed meet all admissions requirements. Keep in mind that the Common Application opens on August 1st and under Early Decision the student only has three months to complete the process whereas a Regular Decision application allows the student five to nine months.
The deadline for Early Decision applications is around November 1st of each year and students will get a decision from the college before the end of December. Students may or may not have a financial aid offer at the time that they need to accept the school’s offer. Students may or may not be in a binding agreement to accept the college’s offer of admissions. These are the risks involved. Many times the college will require that the parents in addition to the student sign an agreement to the binding nature in an Early Decision application.
Parents and students often question how a college can force you to adhere to the binding agreement of admissions. Although this is not necessarily a legal contract, if you break the agreement without an acceptable reason (such as inability to pay tuition), the college will take action. The school may contact the student’s High School to tell them about the infraction (which hurts the high school’s reputation as a school that sends good students to this particular college); the college will contact the student’s other colleges and inform them about the student’s actions; and in essence they blacklist the student for breaking the agreement.
There is also another option that some colleges offer referred to as Early Action. Early Action functions the same as Early Decision except it is non-binding. Students can apply to numerous colleges and do not have to commit to attending the college if accepted early. In some cases, students even have until May to decide which school to attend despite being accepted early.
It is extremely important that when determining how to apply to a college that you read carefully the different options available as they differ widely. For example, Harvard University offers an Early Action that is due by November 1st, but the student is not obligated to accept Harvard’s offer of acceptance. However, the student can only apply Early Action with Harvard, not with any other college. Students will know if they are accepted by December and must submit a decision by May. Harvard’s regular decision application is not due until January 1st and a decision is rendered to the student by late March.
Princeton University offers Single Choice Early Action which allows the student to apply early to other schools as long as they are a public college and it is a non-binding contract. New York University offers two Early Decision options, one due November 1st and a second due January 1st. If the student is accepted, they have only 25 days to decide on the offer. It is considered a binding offer unless financial aid is not able to cover college costs for the student. The second Early Decision option is for students who need a little more time to apply and make a decision.
Closer to home, the University of Miami has three Early options. Early Decision is a binding offer meaning you must attend if accepted. They also offer Early Action that is non-binding and has a later notification date of January. UM also offers Early Decision II which is a non-binding application due in January with a notification date in February. Regular Decision also has a due date in January, but students won’t be notified of acceptance until April.
Many other popular Florida schools – such as Florida International University and the University of Florida do not offer any type of Early Admissions application options. Any type of early application signals to the college that you are serious about attending and are making a commitment to attend. Although it could be a binding contract that you sign sometimes without financial aid information and have less time to complete your application, you are competing against a smaller number of applicants and are among the first to be considered for admissions. Each student needs to weigh the pros and cons of Early Admissions options very carefully.