College application season…uh oh! How much crazier can it get? Plenty. Haven't heard about the latest early-application trend? Keep reading.
If you're a parent who has even once lived through this rite of passage that starts every September and runs through various stages of strife all the way up to May1st (and sometimes longer!), the mere mention of a college application probably makes your stomach churn. By the time a kid figures out which colleges to pursue, takes stock of past and present extracurricular activities, stays current in terms of delivering the best-possible grades in challenging courses, delivers market-worthy standardized test scores, tracks down teachers and others to write stellar rec letters, sets up and completes alumni interviews, writes sage and self-disclosing essays, visits campuses, attends college fairs and admissions road show events (here's where you can now take a breath), they also have to deliver these completed parts of the process without coming apart at the seams, emotionally and spiritually.
Some of you who've witnessed this process might have children who kept things relatively simple by submitting applications to a just few state universities, which by the way, have their own application peculiarities. But a good number of you have teenagers who carried out a full-court campaign to seek offers from private colleges of various selectivity levels throughout the nation and perhaps even the planet. So if you've been through this trial by fire at any level, you might believe that although the college admissions game board is just as challenging and confounding as ever, it's really just the same old-same old for your younger kids as they come up to bat. Right?
Wrong. I have news. It's worse.
An early-application trend in college admissions has been simmering on the back burner for some time, but truly boiled over this season in terms of moving to the forefront. It seems like only a few years ago that we learned the pros and cons of Early Decision and Early Action plans. For those of you who are among the uninitiated, some colleges offer an Early Decision (commonly referred to as the ED) option, where if a high school senior applies for admission by an early stated deadline (usually November 1st or 15th), the decision will be communicated by mid-December. If the applicant is admitted, it's a binding contract where the student must cancel all other applications and attend that college. ED still exists, but has been heavily criticized for favoring financially well-heeled applicants, being that it removes the option of comparing financial aid offers from other colleges. Early Action (EA) is a more forgiving option where if an applicant applies early, the admissions decision will come forth sometime in January. The beauty of EA is that it is not a binding contract, so the applicant can usually apply to as many EA colleges as desired and potentially collect multiple offers, and the decision where to matriculate is an open one.
As one who runs a college counseling program in a popular charter school with a high four-year-college-going rate, I noticed that my letter-writing/document-filing season seemed to hit a fever pitch at a far earlier point this fall. The reason is because increasingly more colleges are instituting all sorts of Early Action-oriented options.
For example, some colleges are offering something that's usually called Immediate Decision. At Bard College www.bard.edu in New York, an applicant's docs are submitted very early in the Fall, then he travels to the Bard campus, interviews, spends some hours being vetted in the classroom via attendance at an academic lecture/discussion, and then learns Bard's admission decision a few days later.
What's most common to find this year is the so-called Scholarship Deadline. For example, let's look at Boston University http://www.bu.edu/. The stated app deadline is January 1, 2013. However, if one carefully reads the instructions, it is learned that if one wishes to apply for BU's Trustee and/or Presidential Scholarships, the application date now moves up to December 1st. This practice has been in place for awhile at such places as University of Redlands www.redlands.edu and University of Southern California http://www.usc.edu/. But now I'm noticing it cropping up all over the place. I'm receiving emails nearly every single day in the form of a "Counselor Newsletter" from various large and small colleges, often introducing such complicated deadlines. I received one today from Kenyon College http://www.kenyon.edu/, a popular small liberal arts college in Ohio that offers Early Decision, Early Decision II, and Regular decision deadlines. But if one reads deeper into Kenyon's website, it's learned that if consideration for one of Kenyon's new merit scholarships is desired, one must meet the new December 15th Scholarship Deadline.
Who doesn't want to be considered for merit scholarships?
Why are college admissions offices jumping on this early application trend? It's because it boosts their application numbers with more students who are eager to demonstrate serious interest. And the more applications they receive, the more of them they can reject, thereby increasing their selectivity stats. Get it?
The bottom line: Carefully read all of the fine print within the application instructions of each college your teenager is seriously considering. The early wave of applicants stands a better chance of being admitted, as well as getting a better shot at a generous financial aid package. Your student can no longer afford to remain asleep at the wheel until mid-Fall. Start your college shopping process far in advance of senior year.
So get busy!