Here we go seniors. The first deadline of the Class of 2020 admission process arrives in two weeks. I know. You’re not ready. I can relate. But as the November 1st Early Decision deadline peeks (or winks?) at you over the calendar’s horizon, your first big admission decision is at hand: will you file an early application?
If “early” means a binding Early Decision (ED) application—as it would be at Tufts—then November 1st is like the wedding day (or at least an engagement day) of the college admissions process. How so? If you file an application, you will be declaring your love to some special place and making a promise of fidelity to it as you promise to enroll if accepted. Proceed with a high degree of thoughtfulness. This is not a moment to be rash, “strategic” (more on that in a minute) or half-hearted.
As you consider that step, ask yourself a critical question: has one college (hopefully one that celebrates an elephant named Jumbo, since I’m not neutral on this topic) surged past all the other options on your list? If the answer is a resounding yes, you’re in the ED zone. But if things are still fuzzy, if your preferences have yet to coalesce into a clear plan, keep looking and thinking.
Trust me: there’s plenty of time to sort things out as November yields to December and the months beyond. Even if it seems like “everyone” in your class is applying someplace early that impression does not mean an early application makes sense for you. Don’t force it. Your best friend’s college process is not your college process. Be confident. Own your decision-making on your own terms. Be intentional.
As an application option, Early Decision always generates lots of questions from prospective applicants. “Is it easier to get in if I apply early?” is a perennial query, and the response is usually a convoluted jig from the admission officer who’s trying to offer an earnest reply. “Well, yes and no…” the officer says (and you think, “Gee, that wasn’t very helpful…”). That question’s sibling would be, “Is it harder to get in ED1 or ED2?” (Some colleges, Tufts among them, offer two rounds of Early Decision, one in November and one in January.) Notice both questions address a similar, strategic focus rather than an emphasis on fit. I would suggest the “ease” or likelihood of admission is not the right way to be making this (early) decision, but let me answer both versions of the question.
Question #1: Is it easier to get in? Well, at most places, the acceptance rate is a bit more inclusive during the early rounds. So, yes, it’s fair to say it is “easier” as measure by the acceptance rate. But that characterization would be misleading; the percentage of ED applicants who are accepted is a slippery measure of “ease.” The acceptance-rate-is-higher-so-it-must-be-easier conclusion requires some nuance.
The better question would be: Are the academic qualifications of ED acceptances different than the student profiles of those accepted via the Regular Decision (RD) cohort? At Tufts, the academic profile of the ED class and the RD class is identical. So if your guidance counselor is telling you "Tufts is a reach," your odds of admission won't improve just because it's Early Decision. But if a student applying early presents academic credentials that are consistent with Tufts’ academic profile, and she also submits a compelling overall application, why wouldn’t we say yes when the applicant has made a binding enrollment declaration?
Question #2: Is ED1 “easier” than ED2? I’ve spent enough time working with high school seniors to sniff out a question behind a question. I think the real question students are asking when they pose the “ED1 versus ED2” question is this one: "If I’m an ED2 applicant, will you assume I applied somewhere else as an ED1 candidate and I didn’t get in?" As a general rule, I try not to make assumptions about the behavior of high school seniors. You change your mind a lot. (It’s a maddening habit, but I get it.) Don’t worry about this angle. We certainly don’t. (And we don’t check out your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, either, but that’s a different blog topic.)
The main difference between the ED1 and ED2 rounds is a matter of the grades we see. For ED1 applicants, the fall semester of 12th grade is a work-in-progress. We will request first-quarter grades (or trimester grades, if that’s the system used in your high school) but your mid-year status report is, obviously, unavailable in late November. That means the results of your junior year carry a bit more weight during the ED1 round. If your transcript is on an upswing, ED2 applicants will have the benefit of midterm results for your senior year. We won't need to guess how you're doing in the senior curriculum you listed on your Common Application. We’ll have evidence.
Finally, some of you might be mulling an ED application but you are understandably reluctant to make a commitment without knowing the terms of your potential aid award. Here are a few thoughts to consider:
1. Our net-price calculator is an essential prerequisite for anyone considering a binding application. If its estimate doesn't suggest a workable financial outcome for your family, a longer conversation with our Financial Aid staff is likely required. If that's the case, you may not want to enter a binding enrollment option until that conversation has been fully engaged.
2. Tufts meets 100% of demonstrated need. In this context, that promise means Tufts will offer you the same financial aid award in December as we will in April. At Tufts, the equation for financial aid eligibility is not dependent on when you apply.
3. ED candidates who apply for aid will receive an estimated aid award (it's estimated because your family's 2015 Federal Income Tax Forms will not have been filed at that point) shortly after the admission decision is released.
4. Your binding ED enrollment pledge can be overridden if our need-based financial aid award seems unworkable for your family.
That's it! If you have a clear first choice, an ED application makes sense. It’s a one-and-done opportunity. But don’t force that decision. You’ll know it’s an appropriate option for you if you feel a tug towards that one special place.
(Photo used under creative commons license to Eneas de Troya. Original photo and license can be found here.)