It’s that time of year for many students – less than two weeks away from them sending out their Early Decision application to their top-choice school. But what if they have more than one “top-choice” school? (I understand that logically this cannot be possible, but really, what about this entire process ever seems completely logical?)
Last year, I had a student who had two Reach colleges on his list that he was genuinely excited about. One was a Big Reach, and one was a Moderate Reach. Many discussions were had about whether it would make the most sense for him to apply Early Decision (ED) to his Big Reach (Boston University), knowing that it would still be a Reach for him; or for him to apply ED to his Moderate Reach (Bucknell), thereby effectively make it a Target for him? What to do, what to do?
Firstly, let us look at two distinct facts about Early Decision plans.
Early Decision plans are binding — a student who is accepted as an ED applicant must attend the college. By this measure alone a student can only apply to one (1) college Early Decision. (Logically, we cannot be two places at once!)
Colleges that offer Early Decision generally have a significantly higher acceptance rate for ED applicants.
Since it's a binding agreement, colleges can count on that student attending (and their money). But just as important to colleges as guaranteed tuition is that the percentage of admitted students who attend, or Yield Rate, can have significant influence on a college’s ranking, thereby increasing their attractiveness for future applicants. Here are several examples of the bump in acceptance rate for ED applicants vs. Regular applicants:
Northwestern University (2018)
Total applicants -- 40,595
Admitted -- 3,673
Acceptance rate -- 0.9%
Applied early decision -- 4,399
Admitted early decision -- 1,096
Acceptance rate -- 24.9%
Washington University in Saint Louis (2018)
Total applicants -- 25,426
Admitted -- 3,522
Acceptance rate -- 13.8%
Applied early decision -- 3,066
Admitted early decision -- 1,042
Acceptance rate -- 33%
Cornell University (2018)
Total applicants -- 49,114
Admitted -- 5.330
Acceptance rate -- 10.8%
Applied early decision -- 6,158
Admitted early decision -- 1,357
Acceptance rate -- 22.6%
As I mentioned above, since ED plans are binding and applicants must attend that college if admitted, students can only apply to ED to one school at a time. Recently, however, more colleges have begun to offer Early Decision II plans, which effectively gives students two cracks at the highly advantageous selectively rates that ED plans offer, should that come to pass.
Since Early Decision applications are due by November 1 or 15 depending on the school, decisions are rendered in mid-December. Meaning, if you are accepted or denied by your Early Decision college, you will have this information in hand prior to the Early Decision II deadlines in January, thus giving you a clean slate should you need it.
Now, back to my student. The schools that he was deciding between to apply Early Decision were Boston University and Bucknell University. Here are their admission details:
Boston University (2018)
Total applicants -- 60,224
Admitted -- 11,786
Acceptance rate -- 18%
Applied early decision -- 4,877
Admitted early decision -- 1,462
Acceptance rate -- 30%
Bucknell University (2018)
Total applicants -- 9,845
Admitted - 3,370
Acceptance rate -- 34%
Applied early decision -- 684
Admitted early decision -- 433
Acceptance rate -- 70.9%
Ultimately, the path forward that the student decided to plot was this: He took the higher-risk gambit of applying to Boston University through their Early Decision application plan, submitting before their November 1 deadline. He rationalized that a) Boston University was his true #1 choice and b) that the only legitimate chance he had of getting in was to apply ED. His GPA and SAT scores were on the lower end of what Boston University was generally looking for. If he got in, great! If he did not, he planned to apply Early Decision II in January to Bucknell University, his clear #2 school.
The result was this. The student applied Early Decision to Boston University with several other schools Early Action (non-binding). By December 15 he had heard back from several colleges, having been admitted to some and denied by others, including Boston University. Although disappointed, the student immediately put his backup plan into gear. He applied ED II to Bucknell University, taking advantage of their 70% selectivity rate. By February 15 he was admitted to the Class of 2024!
Having a solid plan in place for how to use the application plans in your favor, using the tools at your disposal to understand admissions rates, and not getting knocked off your feet when decisions don’t go in your favor all help to lessen the strain and anxiety of the admissions and application process. These tactics put students in the best possible position to get into highly selective colleges and universities.
(For a list of all the colleges that offer ED II plans, email me! I would be happy to send it your way.)