Acceptance without Strings: Early Action College Applications

By Sam Rosensohn

How to apply? When to apply? Early Decision? Early Action? Regular Admission? What to do!!!  Students nationwide have answered: Early Action applications are on the rise nationally and Early Decision applications are on the decline.

Early Action produces a high rate of acceptance letters without strings, while Early Decision mandates a student attend that school if accepted.

“Early Action is clearly more student friendly,” notes David Hawkins, director of public policy for the National Assn. of College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Early Action does not mandate that a student must go to that particular school.

Applying Early Action to Yale more than doubled the chances of getting an acceptance letter for freshmen, according to entrance statistics included in a NACAC’s college guide.

UConn accepted 64 percent of its freshmen who applied Early Action, and 33 percent who applied Regular Decision, according to that NACAC guide.

Sue Paton, director of college counseling at Hopkins School in New Haven, is quick to point out that Early Action and Early Decision statistics can be misleading.

She’s concerned that students will read that a school accepted Early Decision students at a two-to-one margin and conclude that’s going to double their chances of getting in.

“The early decision pool, along with academically talented applicants, can be stacked with recruited athletes and children of alums, the latter two accepted at a considerably higher rate,” Paton said.

“That doesn’t mean that someone couldn’t get a break, but it’s not quite as dramatic as it would seem.”

That said, it’s time to figure out what schools to apply to early and then to start working on those applications. A quick look at a school’s website or a call to the admissions office will provide deadline and notification dates.

Students who don’t know the ins and outs of the early admission process should make an appointment this week with their college counselors.

NACAC posed this question: Early Decision and Early Action: Does the Early Bird Get the Worm?

The short answer, according to NACAC: “Many students make an effort to apply Early Decision or Early Action because they hope to beat the competition of regular decision. Although most colleges have a small number of applications in their early programs, whether it’s easier to get accepted early than later depends on each college’s policy.”

So if you’re thinking of applying early, make a call to the admission offices of the schools you’re interested in applying to and ask these three questions for openers: What portion of the class is admitted early? Does the school have a different standard or profile for early applicants?  Does applying early have some drawbacks or risks?

Now this spun my head like a top. Hawkins noted from the calm of his Virginia office that the primary reason that students apply early is not because they believe it will give them an edge in the admissions game, but rather because it provides an early answer.

“Students find it attractive because it gets the process out of the way, and they want to know if they have a place or they don’t have a place early,” Hawkins said.

Many high school seniors are overwhelmed because they still have so much to do (standardized tests, recommendations, college essays, and visits not to mention everything else they have to do for school) so they opt for a fast answer that will bring the suffocating To-Do List to a close.

Hawkins said that while the data on Early Action doesn’t tell as concise a story as the data on Early Decision, applying Early Action demonstrates to admissions officers that their school is on the student’s shortlist.

“The advantage,” he said, “comes in when colleges take into consideration a student’s interest in attending that school.”

Dan Picchioni, a college counselor at Morgan High School in Clinton, likes Early Action because it provides students with the opportunity to get their applications in early and the process is not binding.

Picchioni cited examples of students who had received over 1500 on their SATs and were rejected from prominent schools despite being legacies.

“They didn’t get in because they got their paperwork in at the end of the application cycle and the quotas were most likely filled,” he said.

“There’s too much procrastination now, the competition level has gone way up and the sheer number of students applying has increased so it’s best to be first in with the application,” said Picchioni.

“There will be a huge number of people from Hopkins applying early, and we’ve seen it work beautifully. I guess we’re both cautious about motivating students on this, and we want everyone to know all the ramifications,” Paton said.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the SAT, the ACT, and the SSAT. He helps students to prepare for college and to write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or