Is Early Decision a leg up or ball in chain?
By Hannah Kahn
Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, students applied to college by Jan. 1, heard back by April 1, and decided on their school of choice by May 1. However, the so-called “game” of college admissions is perpetually changing. As getting into prestigious schools becomes more and more competitive, students (and their parents) look for any help they can get in order to get that coveted acceptance letter. Due to this heightened selectivity, students everywhere have utilized the Early Decision “loophole.” Applying by Nov. 15 and hearing by Dec. 15 has become the norm for much of the senior population at Mamaroneck High School, as students realize that early applications boost their chances, not to mention, they end the stresses of the college process that much sooner. Unfortunately, this warping of the Early Decision card has actually added stress, as more students feel that the only way to be competitive is to apply ED, when they aren’t genuinely ready to commit to a school. This leads to hordes of students sending a binding application with hesitation, as well as students who don’t apply ED feeling as if they’re behind schedule.
Disclaimer: I did apply Early Decision, so of course, I don’t believe it is always a mistake. I picked my favorite school, realizing that no matter where I was accepted, I would still choose my ED school. That’s the pure purpose of Early Decision: to lock kids into their dream schools.
If you go back a few decades, or even a few years, the percentage of students sending ED applications was so much lower than it is today, especially at MHS. These students applied ED because it was the school they loved more than any other; the fact that they got a leg up in the process was still important, but secondary. Today, so many MHS students apply ED that they feel like their chances in the regular decision pool are lower because so many qualified applicants are accepted in this preliminary round. This traps kids who haven’t made up their mind yet, binding them to a school that might not be their favorite come Decision Day in May. While the acceptance statistics are hard to ignore, the choice to ED shouldn’t be numbers-driven; it must come from your own desire to attend that school. Although it might seem like you’re taking yourself out of the running, you’re really benefitting yourself in the long run, and giving yourself more options to choose from.
At our school, it feels like everyone’s applying somewhere ED, but that’s not true everywhere. We hear it from our guidance counselors, our teachers, our parents and MHS alumni: apply early to boost your chances. It’s this kind of rhetoric that gets stuck in the minds of anxious college applicants, and makes us feel like an early app is our only shot. It’s as if we have all forgotten about the regular round —Early Decision was meant to supplement it, not replace it.
So if you’re a senior who didn’t get in ED or didn’t apply ED, don’t freak out. Yes, there is no sugarcoating a deferral or rejection letter; they suck. But the bottom line is, if you don’t get in early, understand that you are in no way behind. You’re one of the increasingly rare people who are actually applying to college the regular way, during the regular time frame and avoiding signing contracts that bind you to an institution for four years. Props to you. My advice to the next round of applicants is, as hard as it may be, drown out the murmurings of who’s applying where and when. Don’t apply somewhere early because other people are. You’ll be happiest at a school you choose for yourself.
Artwork by Steven Rome