We get a lot of questions about applying early vs. regular decision and the merits of applying to schools for each round. One point that we always drive home is that applying somewhere early is not a small decision, and it should be intentional. This is not the time to throw all caution to the wind and apply to your dream school despite the fact that your test scores are well below their average and you sat around by the beach this past summer with nothing to show for it. That’s just silly, and that’s not how we operate. You need to know the why behind applying somewhere early, and you should have the profile as well as demonstrated interest to back it up. Sometimes applying early can help your chances of getting in and sometimes it can hurt them. Read on to find out the why and how.
Are my chances of getting in better if I apply Early Decision?
There’s no simple answer to this question because really, it’s yes, no, and maybe. Here’s the breakdown for each:
If your numbers, GPA, scores, class rigor, are within the range for that particular school (ex: 34-36 on the ACT for Ivy League schools) and your profile is such that you are a great candidate, then it’s a good idea to apply early because you’re competing in a smaller pool of applicants. We can tell you if this is you.
One thing to consider if your scores are in the middle of their range (ex: 32-33 on the ACT for an Ivy League School) is that you might actually have a higher chance of getting in early. Because most early decision schools are restrictive (as in, you have to attend if you are accepted), the schools are likely going to offset their high scoring candidates that they are going to accept and build a solid mid-range foundation during the early round. They know that they are going to get hundreds of applicants who got perfect scores on their ACT and SATs who will end up pulling the average test scores up. Bottom line--if you’re within this range for a school, it’s always better to be one of a few rather than one of many. Apply early. It just makes sense.
Additionally, if you are a legacy with demonstrated interest at a certain school and you genuinely want to go there (legacies who are only applying because mom or dad went there need not apply—admissions readers know who you are) then you must apply early decision if you want to be considered. Legacies who apply regular decision are rarely seriously considered.
If your scores are a bit below the average accepted applicant for a school (read: a bit), but your application overall is strong and you are very passionate about a certain school, then applying early might help your chances. The key is to be realistic about your numbers and their numbers—at a certain point, your application will just get thrown out, regardless of your interest. For example, if you have a 30-31 on the ACT, you fall into this category. So be intentional and mindful, and choose a school that is generally realistic for you. Because there are less applications overall, the chances of your application getting reviewed logically spikes. In this scenario, your essay is the make it or break it. Your essay is the most telling component of your application as is, but in this case it is truly the most essential item of your application and it has to be strong. Not just strong, but dynamic, moving, and interesting. That’s where we can help. 100% of our students last year got into one of their top two choices.
Here’s the part that you don’t want to read but you have to read. We understand that many applicants hold the perspective of: “if I don’t apply then I’ll never know! Why not?!” but we don’t operate on those terms. We build out all of our students’ college lists with intention and reason. You should be doing the same. The reason why that “YOLO” reasoning doesn’t fly for us is because many parts of the application process are a numbers game. Numbers don’t lie and sometimes, most of the time, you actually do know if your application isn’t even going to be read. If you have a 26 on the ACT, you’re most likely not getting into Dartmouth. Let us know if you have any concerns about that, we’d be happy to give you our breakdown of your chances for a particular school. All of that said, if you’re a generic applicant or your numbers are well-below their range, then you’re not getting in. So don’t waste your time applying to that school just because it’s ranked #3. Instead, do your research and find a school that not only would be a great match numbers and culture-wise, but a school that excites you.
Timing your applications and figuring out where to apply, and when, is a daunting task. Thankfully, it’s our specialty. Call or email us.