To Ed or Not to ED, That is the Question?

Many of the students I work with are really struggling with whether to apply Early Decision and to which school. Early Decision is a process where you can complete your application to ONE school by an earlier deadline and commit to attend THAT school if admitted. It is considered binding–you have to withdraw your applications to other schools. Students (and parents) often think applying Early Decision will get them into a school that they likely would not have been admitted to applying Regular Decision. That is not usually the case.

Early Decision is a strategy to use with your top choice, when you can afford to attend no matter what the final cost (or you have run the school’s Net Price Calculator and the aid they estimate is sufficient for you to attend), and you fall in the school’s middle 50% of grade point average and test scores. This is where most clients disagree with me. The feeling is “If I’m already in the middle 50%, aren’t I likely to be admitted anyway? Shouldn’t I use my ED at a really selective school”? My feeling is no. If a school normally admits less than 25% of their regular applicant pool and you aren’t in their middle 50%, ED doesn’t improve your chances significantly. No admission is guaranteed. Unless your first choice admits the majority of their applicants and you are solidly at the top or above their 50%, no admission is guaranteed. If you are a likely candidate for admission, strengthen your application with ED.. Otherwise you are just throwing away your time and money preparing an application that will get rejected, and helping an already selective school be more rejective by denying another application.

What is a middle 50%? Admission offices break their admitted students into quarters. They are required to submit data on the group that falls between 25% and 75%, along with a ton of other data on retention and graduation rates, to the Federal Government (if they participate in the federal student aid programs). This data includes gpa and test scores (if they use scores for any of their admitted students). It’s refered to as the Common Data Set. Most college’s publish it somewhere on their website (google the school’s name and common data set) and several college search websites, like Collegeboard’s My Big Future, use it to publish their admission info on schools. Colleges report it around October each year so the data you find on search engines is often a year behind.

A great tool to use for figuring out if you should apply ED is the spreadsheet compiled by Independent Admission Consultants Jennie Kent and Jeff Levy. God bless these two! They look at every school who releases data and compile it in a handy dandy chart showing the ED admit rates compared to the regular admission rates. When you look at the chart, many colleges admit a much higher percentage of applicants during ED. For some the percent is over 75%–so definitely consider ED there. But for others, it goes from an RD admission rate of 6% to 23%, which still means 77% of the applications will be denied. If you aren’t likely a competitive applicant RD, and the admit rate for ED isn’t very high, then its probably not worth wasting your ED shot at that school.

There are hundreds of colleges in this country. Just because something is selective or has a brand name doesn’t mean its the best college for you. There are many very similar schools that can offer you just as strong of an education and who will admit you–making the process positive instead of rejective and disappointing.

If Coffman Consulting can help you develop a balanced list of schools where you will be admitted and happy, let us know. We love helping students find their right fit.

Published by Kate Coffman

Kate has worked in admissions, financial aid, college and career readiness for over twenty years. She most recently served as the Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Franklin College. Kate has also worked in admissions at Butler University and Indiana University. Kate has presented at numerous schools and conferences helping families, educators and those who work with youth understand how to be college and career ready, how to apply to college and how to afford their education.

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