For many high school seniors, now is the time when their college lists have started to take shape. They’ve (hopefully) moved ahead with their college essays. Now they’re sorting out one of the final pieces of the application puzzle: deadlines. After dedicating so much effort to deciding where to apply, it can be challenging to find the energy – or even a starting place – when it comes to determining when to apply.
So, in an effort to see more happy dances and less anxious pacing, I’m sharing a few tips to help you decide whether applying early to college (or to colleges) on your list is right for you.
How to Decide if Applying Early Decision is Right for You:
1. Do you love your college?
Before you decide to apply to a college early (especially as an early-decision applicant), make sure you love that school. Will you be happy there? Do you think you will find your people? Will you be challenged academically, socially, and personally? Remember that if you’re admitted under early decision, you have to attend because you’ll have signed a binding agreement to do so. If you just like a school but aren’t in “love-love,” consider a non-binding option like early action. Or wait for regular decision to roll around.
2. Make sure you’re ready.
Many colleges’ early application deadlines fall between November 1 and November 15, but some are due as early as October 15. Before deciding to apply under an early policy, make sure you have all your ducks in a row. Have you requested official transcripts be sent to your school? Did you send your test scores? Do your teachers and school counselors know to submit letters of recommendation by the early deadline? Do you have enough time to craft thoughtful and genuine essays? If your answer to any of these questions is “no,” you may want to consider waiting for regular decision.
3. Consider your finances.
Finances are something most college-bound families worry about. But it’s especially important for students considering early decision applications to talk about finances with their parents. Remember that early decision acceptances are binding, meaning you are expected to attend that college if you are admitted, regardless of offers from other schools or financial aid packages. So, before hitting submit, make sure the college you apply to for early acceptance is one your family can afford, regardless of financial aid.
4. Will applying early really benefit you?
At some schools, applying early is a helpful indicator of your interest in that college and the likelihood that you’ll enroll if accepted. Remember that this is true at some, but not all, colleges. So, if you could use another semester to bring up your GPA or if you’re going to be taking standardized tests later on in the fall, you may want to consider waiting to apply under regular decision. Your application could be strengthened by giving yourself more time to develop as a student.
5. Don’t forget to manage your time.
I know, I know, I’ve already hinted at this. But it’s important. Don’t forget the deadlines for colleges you’re planning to apply for regular decision. It’s easy to if you’re so focused on submitting your early applications. You don’t want to lose steam by the time you get to those schools’ applications. Plan out your time accordingly, take your end-of-semester responsibilities (like midterms) into account, and give yourself a break. You won’t be doing yourself any good by rushing through the process. Or if you’re saving all of your more obtainable colleges for after you’ve expended your energy on the early applications.
Of course, the decision of whether or not to apply early (early decision, early action, or restrictive early action) is complex. There are many factors to weigh. So, take the time to talk with your family, reflect on your goals, and consider your options before deciding how to move forward with this (and any other) piece of your college application process.