Admissions Streams: A Parent’s Guide

November 10, 2016
Read Time: 2 min

What exactly does early admission mean, and how do you know which if it is right for your student? Before you can answer that, you need to understand the different ways that colleges admit students.

Most students apply to college under regular admission. Deadlines can be anywhere from December to February, and students know if they’re accepted by April. They’re under no obligation to attend a school that accepts them, so students can shop around a bit. This option might work for students who are not totally sure where they want to go to college, or if they need a bit of extra time to polish their applications. The main drawback is the waiting – students may find it hard to be unsure about their future.

On the other hand, early admission applications are due in November, and most schools will let students know their decision by mid-December.

“The two main pros of applying to an early program are that you have a slightly better chance of being accepted at many schools, as well as that you find out earlier in your senior year, and therefore, may be finished with the process and know where you are going to attend earlier,” says educational consultant Brittany Maschal.

Early admission programs can be early decision, early action, or restrictive/single-choice early action. There are some key distinctions between them.

Early decision: Students can only apply to one school under early decision. Early decision (ED) is binding — if a student is accepted, they must enroll there. They can still apply to other schools under regular admission, but they’ll have to withdraw any applications to other schools once they’re accepted.

ED can be an option for those students who have done all their research and are 100 percent positive they want to attend that school. It can slightly improve chances for admission at a highly selective college. But there is a downside.

“The main con is that you are unable to review, compare and negotiate financial aid awards between schools if you apply to an early binding program,” says Maschal.

Early action: If a student is accepted under an early action plan, they are not obligated to attend that school. They can still apply to other colleges. Because early action is non-binding, it offers more flexibility. Even if a student is accepted under early action, they still have until May 1st to respond. That allows students to compare offers and negotiate financial aid packages.

If a student is fairly sure where they want to go, and can put together a solid application by November, early action might be a good option.

Restrictive/single-choice early action: This one is also non-binding, but there are rules about what other schools a student can apply to.

For example, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale all have single-choice early action policies. That means a student can’t apply for early admission anywhere but that one school. Students can still apply to other schools under regular admission, though.

Georgetown, Notre Dame, and Boston College all have restrictive early action policies. They allow students to apply to other schools under early action, just not under early decision.

“This is not the same policy as Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale,” says Maschal. “It is best to carefully read the policy of each school you are considering.”

Research is key. If you and your student have any questions, be sure to talk to a school counselor – they can help steer you down the right path.

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