Originally Published in Hindustan Times Education
Many students applying to the US for undergraduate studies are intensely focused on early application rounds coming up on November 1st. Should you apply? The basic idea of the early deadline is that if you apply early you will get a decision before Dec 15th (as compared with the regular decision deadline on Jan 1 where you get a decision by April 1). The variations on this deadline are Early Decision, Early Action and Single Choice Early action.
Early Decision (ED) is ‘binding’ and if you are granted admission you MUST attend the college. Early decision is also, by default, single choice – you can only apply to one because you cannot be bound to more than one college. (note: some colleges have an ED2 deadline, which is usually around Jan 1. It is also binding.)
Programs that participate in Early Action (EA) are not binding. If admitted, you have do not have to decline or accept your admission unitl May 1, the same date as regular decision applicants.
Single Choice Early Action also allows you to decide later, like Early Action, but you can only apply early to one college.
So now the important question – should you apply early and if so where? Here is my answer: You should apply early only if you are prepared to put in your best application – there is no sense applying early because you think you have “nothing to lose.” If the college is one of your top choices and your application is weak, you are better off waiting to apply in the regular dealine, because you do not get a second chance to apply in regular decision. The early applicant pools usually consist of self-selected, well-qualified students whose first choice is their early program, so they are competitive. For many Indian students there is not enough data for colleges to see in an early decision appication. Colleges look at marks and scores throughout your college career as evidence of either consistency or improvement. If your marks since 9th reflect consistent excellent, then applying early is a good idea. But if you need your 12th scores to make a case for improvement, then wait and apply in Regular Decision.
But where to apply? Only consider Early decision if you have an absolute favorite, number one college you want to go to, no matter what, because you will have to go. You should only apply to Early Action programs if the college is among one of your top or high target choices. In other words if you apply to the University of Chicago, early action, you can still apply to Yale in the regular decision round (Jan 1) then make your choice only after you have tried all your options. The best thing about this strategy is that you if you are accepted at your EA college, you can skip applying to your safety schools. You only have to work on the dream schools, if you still want to.
Finally, when the decisions come in December, they are of three types; accepted (hooray!), regret (boo!), or deferred (huh?). Deferred means that your application will be reconsidered in the regular decision round and you will get a final decision by April 1.
It is a tough decision whether to make the effort to apply early, but in general if there is a school you would really love to go to and you have a strong application ready, then go for it.