"Nudging" Students to Apply Early Decision

As if students don’t feel enough anxiety around college, now they may feel heightened pressure by schools offering second round Early Decision options.  A recent WSJ article reports that some institutions have begun asking students who have applied Regular Decision, to boost their chances of admission by applying Early Decision. Because the ED option is binding, students who are accepted this way must withdraw their Regular Decision applications elsewhere.

“If Tulane is your first choice school, you may want to consider switching to Early Decision II,” with a Jan. 7 deadline, according to an email sent to one applicant. “If you are admitted, your college search is over,” the email went on to coax. Last year, Tulane (one of several colleges using this approach) received 625 additional ED applications and accepted 95, an admit rate of 15%.

Colleges want to guarantee enrollment

Early decision has been growing for years and some institutions fill more than half of their freshmen class this way. “For colleges, it helps guarantee enrollment at a time when they are competing more fiercely for students,” states the article.  If there is such fierce competition for students, why do acceptance rates seem to drop every year?  Clearly, more students must be applying.

“…a runaway train”

“We’re all pushing early decision now,” said Mark Hatch, Colorado College’s vice president for enrollment. “This is a runaway train and it’s not going to stop.”  At Colorado College, 27% of students who applied ED in 2018 were admitted compared with only 5% who applied regular admission. The overall admit rate was 15%.

Despite the statistics, many school, and independent counselors (myself included) view this type of cajoling as unfair to students, and parents. The invitation email alone essentially dangles a string of hope.  “They must want me,” a student may say to himself reading the alluring words “your college search is over.”  Yet, the words are simply a clever marketing ploy for schools.

Self-serving maneuver

This new tactic joins other strategies that colleges and universities have used for years: increasing the number of deferred students (from ED/EA applications to RD); placing hundreds of hopefuls onto waitlists that never budge.  Tactics that serve the colleges’ interest, but not the students.  On the contrary, such tactics only tease applicants and often postpone the inevitable disappointment.

All the more reason to maintain a realistic stance around admissions. Apply Early Decision only if you really want to attend that school, not because you’re afraid you won’t be accepted anywhere else. Yes, acceptance rates for Regular Decision are lower, but if you’ve applied to appropriate institutions, chances are good that you will be admitted to many of your schools.