This is one of those questions that constantly appears in my inbox and monopolizes my conversations with prospective students. Juniors, seniors, parents - it doesn’t seem to matter – everyone has ED on the brain. So let’s have a frank conversation about it, shall we? The question behind the question here is often: "Is it easier to get in ED?" And I'll address that here. But first, let's talk about the two reasons – and the only two reasons - you should apply somewhere through Early Decision. (SPOILER ALERT: These should not be surprising.)
1. This school is your first choice. If you were to get into every school on your list, you know that you would choose this school over all the others - no matter what.
2. This school is financially viable for your family. You’ve either decided that your family can afford the tuition or you have researched the financial aid available and are confident you will receive what you need. (SHAMELESS FINANCIAL AID PLUG: Tufts meets 100% of demonstrated need for all of our students for all four years – you can get an estimate of your financial aid package using our Net Price Calculator. If your financial aid package differs greatly from what the calculator predicted, we can override the binding agreement after you have a conversation with our Financial Aid office – this is the only exception to that “totally binding no matter what” rule.)
Both – not just one – of the statements above must be true for you to apply ED to this institution. This seems simple to me – if one of these things is not true, you should not be applying somewhere through the ED round. If you’re saying things like “I like Tufts… I’m not sure about ED…” I will interrupt you and say: “Do not apply ED.” Many feel pressure from their peers who are applying Early, and many more feel that they want to approach this decision strategically – I’ll get to that in a moment. But the bottom line is this: If you are admitted to an institution through Early Decision, you must go there. You must spend four years there; you must call its students your classmates, roommates, and often lifelong friends; you must learn from its professors and graduate with its degree in one of the majors it offers. You must also pay its tuition and receive financial aid based on its guidelines. Early Decision means giving up options, letting go of the ability to make a choice between different campus cultures and academic offerings. That is a big commitment – are you ready to make it based solely on strategy? I hope not. So my advice? Don’t worry about what your peers are doing – if you haven’t fallen in love with a school yet, give it time.
But now I’ll answer the question many of you are really asking. “Is it easier to get in if I apply Early?” My true, honest answer to your true, honest question is “it shouldn’t matter.” But let’s get real for a moment – the answer to this question is tricky. To illustrate why, let’s pretend you are an admission officer at Tufts University (lucky duck!)
It’s November 1st, day 1 of application reading season, and the task in front of you is to fill 1,325 seats in Tufts’ Class of 2021. You open an Early Decision application. The applicant (let’s call her Maggie) is qualified, meaning she could be categorized academically as a “typical” admit for Tufts. (This part is important. If Tufts is a “reach” for you academically, it’s going to be a “reach” no matter when you decide to apply. Applying Early does not make it “easier” to be admitted. Academically, the Early Decision group looks just like the Regular Decision group.) Back to Maggie – as you read on, you learn she’s COOL. She’s intellectual, involved, engaged… all the things you’d like to see in students at Tufts. You keep reading. Maggie’s teachers and guidance counselor are raving – they say she’s whip smart and interesting with a hilarious sassy streak. You finish reading. What do you think, admission officer? Here’s what I would think:
I have exactly 0 seats out of 1,325 full at this moment in time, and Maggie is telling me that she will come to Tufts. She’s excited about our campus and community, she’s taken the time to decide we are her first choice, and not only that, but I like her! I’m going to be really happy to have her on campus, our professors will appreciate her intellectualism, and her roommate will appreciate her kindness and sassy streak. I’d admit Maggie… wouldn’t you?
Now let’s pretend Maggie applied through Regular Decision. What’s different? Well, maybe nothing. I would still vote to admit her (she’s the same person, after all). My colleagues will also vote to admit her, and there’s a very good chance that she will be admitted. But now some of those 1,325 seats already have butts in them, because it's March instead of November. So while in all likelihood Maggie still ends up a Jumbo, she also is at risk of getting caught in the sheer forces of supply and demand. In March, we see so many great kids who will absolutely get into great schools and be happy where they land- but we can't take all of them. This is true in Early Decision, too, it's just happening on a greater scale in March when we're looking at 20,000 applications.
So here’s the take-away, junior and seniors: There is value in taking the time now to determine if you have a first choice school – and if you do, Early Decision can be a really great option. But if you don’t find a first choice school – one you’re sure of and your family has decided they can afford – ED is simply not meant for you. And that’s OK, because the schools that see a fit with you are still going to be excited to admit you in March (and here's another fact to keep in mind - by sheer volume, we say "yes" to far more people in Regular than we do in Early). And ultimately, this decision is just too darn big to make based on anything other than pure love for an institution and excitement for your future there.
*Photo via Flickr user clappstar