By Deb Coco
November 1 is a big milestone in the world of college admissions. Early Action is the first in a “series” of possible application deadlines for college seniors. At The College Advisor of New York, we encourage many of our students to submit their applications (if offered by colleges on their list) on this deadline. And therein lies one of the many caveats to this process – not all schools offer “EA” and not all students should use it, if indeed it is offered. There are six possible admission plans in the world of college admissions: Early Action, Single Choice/Restrictive Early Action, Early Decision, Regular Decision, Rolling Admission, and Open Admission. Confused? It’s important that you understand the difference because they are not all created equal, and if misunderstood, each can affect the outcome of your candidacy.
Early Action is the earliest available deadline. If a school offers this 11/1 or 11/15 option, we normally advise students to select it. However, every EA pool is different and it’s important to have a knowledgeable college consultant advising you on whether or not your qualifications are suited to the Early Action pool at the schools of your choice. EA is non binding, allowing applicants to apply to more than one EA school; it does not require a final decision until the May 1 deadline.
Early Decision is a binding contract, meaning students may only apply to one “ED” school and if accepted, they MUST attend. We advise “ED” to very few students, simply because most 17-year-olds are not secure enough with their decision making to commit to the college of their choice, early in their senior year. We believe that in most cases, it is wise for students to apply to at least 7 schools and weigh the options when the decisions come in. Being “wed” to one school can actually cause angst at the 11th hour and there is no way – other than the school not offering an adequate financial aid package – to wiggle out of an “ED” acceptance.
Regular Decision and Rolling Admission are just as they sound and the most common. Regular decision deadlines range from between January 1 and March 15. Rolling is “anytime” meaning students will submit when they’ve completed their application and schools send decisions on a “first come first served” basis, typically within 3-5 weeks of submission.
So, you’ve hit the submit button . . . what happens next? First, I tell all my students that this process has many moving parts and their application represents just one. Official standardized test scores need to be sent from the testing companies (ACT and The College Board) unless you are applying to “test optional” schools. High school transcripts, school counselor and teacher recommendations are transmitted from the student’s high school. It is crucial for students to be in constant contact with their school counselors to assure that their documents are sent out on time. It is prudent to follow up with college admission offices and verify that they’ve received ALL the components of your application. You should do so about a week after you’ve applied. Believe me, we’ve seen the fall-out of panic when students realize they forgot to send their test scores or their supplemental essay…it happens.
The most important quality during this entire journey is patience. The majority of our students begin working with us at some point in their sophomore or junior year, so, once the application deadlines have come and gone, they are more than one year in. It is at that point that the real waiting begins. Acceptances for Early Action and Early Decision normally begin to roll in around the holidays, but Regular Decision notifications won’t be available until early spring. That can feel like a lifetime of running to the mailbox.
Just hold tight because most (if not all) students will receive at least one “deferral” letter. Deferrals place students who applied under the Early Action plan on a “wait list” until the entire application pool is reviewed – usually in the spring. Most schools will offer the option of remaining on the deferral list or not. This can cause some last minute anxiety, but unfortunately is quite common.
The take away is that this process is long and drawn out, with curves and speed bumps. The sigh of relief after pushing the “submit” button is closely followed by worry, both by student and parent. As Tom Petty told us so well, “the waiting is the hardest part” and nowhere is that more evident than waiting for a letter of admission to arrive. I tell my students that the best way to fight the anxiety is to understand that the work is done. Don’t look back and don’t fret . . . it’s time to let go and let the process play itself out. Take some comfort that your essays are written, the “I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed! Senior year comes but once in your life, so congratulate yourself on a job well done, sit back, try to relax and I wish you the best of luck!