Deciding Between Early Action and Regular Decision When Looking at Elite Schools

There’s a common idea that applying early gets you an admissions “boost.” But in fact, the amount of this “boost” can vary substantially based on your student’s specific situation and the schools he or she is applying to. One of our admissions specialists recently received an email from a student considering applying early to some elite schools, and this was her response, which we think will be helpful to any student in a similar situation:

There is an advantage to applying Early–I call this an admissions “boost.” At some places (e.g. Michigan) this is so significant that it is almost not worth it at all to apply Regular. At other places (e.g. Brown and Yale) this advantage is only slight. It is worth noting that the pure statistics on whether there is an Early advantage are skewed at all schools because the vast majority of recruited athletes apply early, and because these candidates are pre-screened they are rarely denied. So the statistics make it look like there is more of an advantage than there actually is.

That said, the student who posed the question to me is a long shot for Yale in either cycle, because of the extremely competitive nature of the Yale applicant pool. One school of thought (presumably her guidance counselor’s) is to maximize all possible chances and go ahead and apply Early to Yale. This would be my advice except for the following:

If she has another reach school that she likes just as much as Yale but where her academics are more competitive, then I would recommend strongly considering applying Early there instead to maximize the Early admissions boost. For example, if she liked Duke just as much as Yale: it is still intensely competitive for admissions, but her academics put her more in the running. In essence, Emily will get more out of applying Early to a school like Duke than she does for Yale: the boost will “mean more” in her application because she was already closer to being admitted. If you only get one chance to gain a benefit from applying Early, this argument says use the benefit where it has a greater chance of paying off. If she applies Early to Yale, is denied, and then is denied Regular at a school like Duke will she wish, in hindsight, that she had been more strategic with her Early application? This reasoning really only works for students where their second choice schools (e.g. Duke) are still a great choice for them. It does not work if their dream school (e.g. Yale) is far and away their first choice and no other comes close.

So my advice really depends on a few points that only your student will have the answer to: how badly is Yale her dream school and how finished are her Yale essays? Yale will not let you apply to other private universities Early if you apply Early to Yale. So, if she also loves another school, it might be worth it instead to apply Early to that school, particularly if they have Early Action and would not bind her to attending if admitted. Also, what shape are her Yale essays in?  If she is confident that they showcase compelling intangible qualities (e.g. dedication, perseverance, intellectual curiosity, etc.) then they will help her admissions chances. If she feels they could benefit from an intensive workshopping process then I would hold off, apply Regular Decision to Yale, and apply Early Action somewhere else instead.

Signet can help your student get those last minute applications in on time!

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