December marked the release of many early action and early decision results for college admissions. Students who submitted their applications in October and November, several months ahead of the regular deadlines, anxiously awaited their decision of acceptance, deferral, or rejection.
This year, with further implementation of test-optional and test-blind policies as well as an emphasis on first-generation admissions, the number of early applications increased across the country, especially for selective colleges. Universities like Harvard, Yale, and Brown have reported near-record levels.
According to Mary Jacobs, who has worked as an assistant in the College and Career Center (CCC) for seven years, not only are there differences between early and regular applications, but there are also different types of early applications.
“Early decision is that school that you would commit to in a heartbeat and you are confident that you can meet the financial requirements,” Jacobs said. “Early action also gives the advantage of applying early and getting the decision early; however, you have some flexibility. You do not have to make a decision about an early action admission until May 1.”
Two groups of people generally submit early decision applications, according to Jennifer Hammond, the Academic Choice (AC) and Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS) college counselor. Due to the financial implications, early decision may make the most sense for students who come from affluent families and are sure they can afford the cost, as well as students who have a zero Expected Family Contribution (EFC), meaning they can’t afford to pay any tuition and therefore qualify for a full ride. Early decision is a binding contract, so those who fall in between may not be able to commit to a school until they know their financial aid package.
“It tends to be a competitive pool,” Hammond said. “Many students who apply early decision and early action are in a pool of affluent students, the generally ‘high-achieving’ population because they are well resourced and had access to lots of programs and SAT prep and things like that.”
While early applications often include a more “competitive” pool, they may still offer a higher chance of success. Hammond explained that many colleges admit a larger proportion of early decision applicants because they guarantee yield, which is the percentage of students that accept the college’s offer and determines college rankings.
Hammond also noted that many low-income students or first-generation applicants generally don’t have the information or resources to complete the process so far in advance. They may not be able to visit or learn about colleges without additional support, despite high motivation.
“It takes more time and effort without the institution already established where parents in the home have been talking about the four-year colleges that they attended, all the degrees that they earned, and things like that,” Hammond said. “They’re coming from a place of needing more support throughout the whole process. That’s what makes it somewhat inequitable, but we still try to push for those early deadlines.”
The test-optional and test-blind policies have increased the number of early applications from first-generation students, according to Hammond.
“We have higher numbers of first-generation students getting in where we had fewer before because they just weren’t applying to begin with, and they actually have a very compelling application without that score,” Hammond said. “We had excellent results last year, [and] we anticipate excellent results this year, so I’m not concerned about that penalizing students at all.”
Yasmeen Rodriguez, a senior in AC, is a first-generation college applicant who applied early decision to Boston University this year and is still waiting to know if she got in. She submitted an early decision II application, which is still a commitment, but has a slightly later deadline in early January. Rodriguez described the impact of test-optional policies on her application experience.
“I didn’t have to take the SAT or the ACT, so I didn’t have to stress out as much throughout the process,” she said. “It’s a relief for sure.”
Rodriguez added that she is a first-generation college applicant, so her parents hadn’t been through the application process before. Instead, most of the support she received was from school. At the CCC, she worked with Julia Maciel, a college advisor, as well as Mary Jacobs. Rodriguez explained how she began working on her essays in the summer, so the early application process was less stressful, despite the fast-paced timeline.
“Deadlines are arbitrary,” Hammond said. “If the deadline was for tomorrow, you’d get the thing done tomorrow. If the deadline is in a month, you’ll get it done in three to four weeks. If you give yourself the early application deadline, then at least you can set yourself up to have that opportunity.”