Going to college is similar to arriving at a fork in the road, and the right early admission program can function as a GPS that plots the course that dictates your academic journey.
Early admission plans—which can be mutually beneficial for students and colleges alike—allow students to apply to colleges before the normal deadline and learn if they have been accepted early. These plans allow students to improve chances for acceptance at a school of their choice, while colleges are able to snatch up students who fit their admissions parameters and really want to be on their campus.
“We have to have certain numbers in our admissions, but we want those stellar students,” says Stephanie Kinkaid, Assistant Director of the Wackerlie Career and Leadership Center at Monmouth College. “So if those stellar students are going to apply early to college, we’re obviously going to take those students, because we want our admissions class to be a great class. We want high numbers, but we also want quality students as well.”
Early Admission Options
Prospective college students can choose from three types of early admissions plans: early decision, early action and single-choice early action. All three plans require students to apply by October or November, and they’ll typically learn if they are accepted no later than December or January.
Early decision plans are binding. You must must go to your first choice if you are accepted and offered a financial aid package that meets your needs. If you have applied to any other college, you must withdraw your applications from all other schools once your first-choice college accepts you.
A deposit is usually required at the time you apply during the early decision stage. You can turn down your first choice school only if they do not offer enough financial aid.
Early action plans offer a little more flexibility in decision making. These have a similar timetable to early decision plans, but you can apply to more than one college during that time.
If you are accepted by a college during the early action period, you can decline their offer if a better offer from another school comes along. You can also agree to the offer immediately if you choose, or wait until the spring to make your final choice.
Single-choice early action plans work as a hybrid of the early decision and early action plans. You are limited to applying to one college early and other college applications must be done during the regular admissions window.
This plan is non-binding like early action plans if you are accepted, and no immediate decision is needed. You can wait until spring to decide on offer from your first-choice college.
The Pros and Cons of Early Acceptance
Applying early to college offers definite risks and rewards to a college student. It isn’t a decision to be made lightly, given the binding nature of the commitment.
You should not choose a college through an early decision plan, for example, if you have waited until your senior year of high school to start looking. It binds you to a specific school before you have really explored which option best fits your academic, financial and social needs.
“That does not give you nearly enough time to make that decision,” Kinkaid said. “You really need to begin looking in your sophomore or junior year, because the only way to find out if a school is a good fit for you is to visit the school. So you have to have time to go visit.”
For students who have done the necessary homework, there are plenty of benefits to be gained from early acceptance. Early acceptance lets a college work with a student to put together a financial aid package that meets their needs. Students have more time to look around for scholarships, apply for work-study programs and do other things that will lighten the financial load.
The key positive aspect from being admitted early isn’t any financial aid package, though, as much as gaining a measure of internal peace.
“It’s less of a financial advantage than it is an advantage for enjoying their senior year, knowing they have secured admission to their first choice school,” says Danielle Lodge, Director of Financial Aid at Wesleyan College in Georgia.
Students can also enjoy plenty of academic and social benefits from early acceptance to college. This can include opportunities to build relationships with professors and other students.
Those are doors that aren’t always open when scrambling to find a college at the last minute.
“Once they’ve made that decision, the pressure is kind of off,” says Adam Jenkins, Director of Admissions at Central Methodist University in Missouri. “What it does allow now is student engagement to increase. That’s when typically we see a lot of our students … start the social media engagement to a higher degree. They seek out ways to connect to the campus.”