For many students, now is the time when their college lists have started to take shape. They’ve (hopefully) gotten ahead with their college essays, and now they’re sorting out one of the final pieces of the application puzzle: deadlines. After dedicating so much effort to deciding where to apply, it can be difficult to find the energy — or even a starting place — when it comes to deciding when to apply.
So, in an effort to see more happy dances and less anxious pacing, we at Collegewise are sharing a few tips and pieces of insight to help high school seniors decide whether applying early to a college (or colleges) on their list is right for them.
1. Do you love your college?
Before you decide to apply to a college early (especially as an early-decision applicant), make sure you love that school. Will you be happy there? Will you find your people there? Will you be challenged academically, socially and personally?
Remember that if you’re admitted under early decision, you have to attend because you’ll have signed a binding agreement to do so. If you just like a school but aren’t in “love-love,” consider a nonbinding option like early action, or wait for regular decision to roll around.
2. Make sure you’re ready.
Many colleges’ early application deadlines fall between Nov. 1 and Nov. 15, but some are due as early as Oct. 15. Before deciding to apply under any early policy, make sure you have all your ducks in a row.
Have you requested official transcripts be sent to your school? Did you send your test scores? Do your teachers and school counselors know to submit letters of recommendation by the early deadline? Do you have enough time to craft thoughtful and genuine essays?
If your answer to any of these questions is “no,” you may want to consider waiting for regular decision.
3. Consider your finances.
Finances are something most college-bound families worry about, but it’s especially important for students considering early-decision applications to talk about finances with their parents.
Remember that early-decision acceptances are binding, meaning you are expected to attend that college if you are admitted, regardless of offers from other schools or financial aid packages. So, before hitting submit, make sure the college you apply to for early decision is one your family can afford, regardless of financial aid.
4. Will applying early really benefit you?
At some schools, applying early can be a helpful indicator of your interest in that college and the likelihood that you’ll enroll if accepted. However, that this is true at some, but not all, colleges.
So, if you could really use another semester to bring up your GPA or if you’re going to be taking standardized tests later on in the fall, you may want to consider waiting to apply under regular decision. Your application may actually be strengthened by giving yourself more time to develop as a student.
5. Don’t forget to manage your time.
I know, I know, I’ve already hinted at this. But it’s important. Don’t forget the colleges you’re planning to apply to regular decision just because you’re so focused on submitting your early applications. You don’t want to lose steam by the time you get to those schools’ applications.
Plan out your time accordingly, take your end-of-semester responsibilities (like midterms!) into account, and give yourself a break. You won’t be doing yourself any good by rushing through your work or saving all of your more obtainable colleges for after you’ve worn yourself out on your early applications to reach schools. You deserve better than that stress.
Of course, the decision of whether or not to apply early (early decision, early action or restrictive early action) is more complex than we can cover here. So, take the time to talk with your family, reflect on your goals, and really consider your options before deciding how to move forward with this (and any other) piece of your college application process.