September looms. “Back to School” sales have sprouted at malls across America, the campus bookstore is piled high with textbooks and varsity athletes for the fall season are sweating their way through pre-season training sessions in the late summer sun.
For the high school Class of ’13, senior year is in the wings, if it hasn’t started already, and the first big decision of the admission process is at hand: “Should I apply somewhere as an Early Decision (ED) candidate?” The answer depends on your response to a more salient and introspective question: Have you fallen in love with one college? While many people in your personal orbit will surely have opinions about whether you should file an early application, you are the only one who can answer that one. It’s a very personal moment.
Be honest with yourself. If your answer to the second query is either “no” or a wistful “maybe…” then you are a perfect candidate for Regular Decision. Give yourself permission to wait and explore your options after your thinking has matured and deepened, even if it seems like everyone in your AP English class is “going early” somewhere. This is a great moment to resist the urge to be a lemming.
I have worked in college admissions long enough to appreciate an important truth about the senior year of high school: the journey from September to May is transformative. Trust me on this one: senior spring brings unexpected clarity. You will change and grow in amazing ways over the next 40 weeks or so. If you need more time to sort this out, that time is available. There’s no need to rush.
But for some of you, the clarity of senior spring exists today (or it will emerge over the early weeks of the fall semester). If one college has captured your imagination and reflects your aspirations, and if (and this is a critical preposition in this instance) a certain place sings to you like no other, then an early application makes sense. Maybe you even bought a sweatshirt.
If that sounds like your current situation, that’s why places like Tufts offer Early Decision as an application option. If that rings true, make an appointment with your guidance counselor to discuss Early Decision. (We don’t offer Early Action at Tufts, so I’m focusing on the binding option.)
Last year, a senior confided to me after a school visit that Tufts gave him “butterflies” in his stomach. “I can’t stop thinking about it,” he said.
“Are you applying early?” I asked.
“I am,” he replied with a big grin. “I can’t imagine going anywhere else.” And that, my friends, is the burden of proof for Early Decision. (Yes, he got in.)
When ED enters the conversation, some will advise that it is a moment to game the system, to “increase the odds” by announcing your first choice. There’s certainly some truth to the point: a first choice declaration does carry some weight as an admission committee considers an application. Why wouldn’t a college give extra consideration to someone who meets the admissions criteria and has made a binding commitment to it? But let me be clear: “extra consideration” does not mean extra credit. The ED cycle—at least the one I lead at Tufts--does not mean that the normal dimensions of our selection criteria are upended. In fact, the academic profile of the ED cohort in the Class of 2016 is identical to the academic profile of those accepted during Regular Decision.
Many financial aid candidates are understandably concerned about affordability and that critical aspect preempts their ability to “commit” to a particular college. If you apply early to Tufts, you will have an estimated aid award by mid-December (pending the completion of your parents’ 2012 Federal tax returns) that meets 100 percent of your demonstrated need. And in the unlikely event that our need-based award does not align with your family’s sense of what you can afford, we will release you from your binding agreement to enroll if we cannot reconcile the issue.
Listen to the butterflies if they have invaded your gut. They are wise little creatures.