‘Tis the season of exclamatory Facebook status updates, celebratory cookie cakes, new t-shirts, and assorted other fanfare related to…drumroll…the college decision. Today, May 1st, marks National College Decision Day. This “holiday” has emerged from many colleges’ requirement of a monetary deposit by May 1st to secure a spot in a freshman class. For high school seniors across the country, today marks the culmination of a long and often painstaking process. it’s a day meant for celebration and excitement about the future.
While each student’s experience is unique, by and large, the process begins during the second half of junior year. Families head on road trips to tour schools over winter or spring break. Guidance counselors schedule College Planning Meetings to review potential safety, target, and reach schools. Students take ACTs, SATs, subject tests, and AP exams. And there‘s only so much time to recollect your sanity before the Common Application starts looming over your every thought. Many students finish their Common App essays before the start of senior year.
And then things only get crazier. For those with a definite top choice or “dream school,” the question of an early decision (ED) or early action (EA) program arises. In recent years, the popularity of these programs has skyrocketed. Today, about 450 schools offer some sort of early admission plan. With increasingly competitive applicant pools and plummeting admissions rates, some feel that applying early maximizes the chance of acceptance to a reach school. Unfortunately, these systems are extremely restrictive. A student can only submit one ED or restrictive early application. And in the case of ED, accepted candidates must attend the college with their non-negotiable financial aid decision. Thus, the system benefits those for which financial aid does not play a pivotal role in college attendance.
Harvard Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons says, “Early admission appears to be the ‘new normal’ now, as more students are applying early to Harvard and peer institutions than ever before.” And not only are more students applying early, but colleges are filling larger chunks of their classes early. Some schools including Dartmouth, Williams, Middlebury, Duke, and Penn fill roughly half their slots early—which makes things even crazier for regular applicants. This year, the University of Pennsylvania accepted 1,354 Early Decision candidates at a 22% acceptance rate.The University also reports a historic low overall acceptance rate of 9.15% of 40,413 applicants. What they don’t publish in their newspaper, though, is that these numbers mean that only 6.84% of regular decision applicants were accepted—even more intimidating than the already measly 9.15%. There are myriad entangled factors impacting decisions including athletic recruitment, afﬁrmative action, and legacy status that are *way* beyond the scope of a single article.
Early action and early decision programs typically release decisions in mid-December. This leaves about a two-week window for deferred or denied early applicants to apply to other colleges. Applying regular decision to colleges, whether or not a student applied early somewhere, has become an extremely complex process. Many schools require supplements on top of the Common Application essay meant to “challenge the student to think introspectively” and “present yourself creatively and candidly,” AKA, hours of staring at a blank computer monitor trying to figure out what your hypothetical pH would be to satisfy those UChicago admissions ofﬁcers. To be fair, UChicago is notorious for absurd supplemental prompts, but still. Not fun.
And once you survive all the supplement-writing and recommendation-uploading and interview-hopping it becomes time to wait. From about January 1st to April 1st, admissions officers mill through thousands of applications to “craft a beautiful mosaic class” aka make often arbitrary and sometimes unfair decisions. And through it all, all you can do is hope that your witty essay puns or cute interview outfits charmed someone somewhere you’d like to spend the next four years going to school. Then the news starts trickling in. And even though it’s <the most> annoying thing to hear, deep down, you know you’ll have an amazing time wherever fate takes you. Congratulations to the Class of 2017 for making it through!
If you’re interested in reading more about the sources I referenced, see the links below: