How Important Is Demonstrated Interest?

By Elizabeth LaScala, PhD

Hundreds of colleges and universities welcome early applicants.  So how do you know if an early option is right for you? The first step is to understand the differences between the major early admission plans.

Early decision (ED) is a binding agreement between the college and applicant. You may only use ED for one school and, if accepted, you must attend.  ED has become more popular, especially among very selective institutions, because there are clear advantages. From a financial standpoint, colleges get a head start assembling an incoming freshman class, since the yield from accepted ED applicants is 100%. From a competitive stance, ED gives the college the opportunity to admit the desirable students, those who might have attended rival institutions. The advantages to students include ending the uncertainty of the college admissions process early so they can relax and enjoy their senior year.  Also, applying ED can sometimes increase the qualified student’s chances of admission.

When deferred, or denied ED, the student is released from the commitment and can pursue other options—including ED at another school.  Hence we have witnessed the emergence of ED2 application programs. This is another enrollment strategy used by colleges that know that high achieving students who are denied at their first choice school often look afresh at other selective schools. Applying ED2 may increase the chances of admission there. The downside of both types of ED programs is that it limits financial aid options. Families forfeit the opportunity to compare financial aid offers from several schools, or negotiate for a better package between schools.

In contrast, early action (EA) gives the student an early response without a binding commitment.  Students accepted through EA enjoy the benefit of knowing that they are accepted by one or more of the schools on their list, but they can wait until the spring to decide what school to attend. The student is also free to apply to other schools using the regular admission cycle and make a decision once all admission offers and financial aid awards are on the table.  A few EA schools place restrictions. The most restrictive is “early action single choice.”  Under this program a student may not apply ED or EA to any other school. 

Both ED and EASC are often the most attractive options for applicants in one or preferably more of the following categories:

    • Students who do not require financial assistance
    • Athletic recruits
    • Legacy candidates
    • Children of legacies who have consistently made donations to the college over time—larger donations may have more of an impact.

Families should research and visit colleges to learn about early options and deadlines. If you choose a binding ED option, be totally confident that your first choice school is right for you, academically, socially and financially. Be sure your academic and extracurricular profile is competitive and that you have the support of your parents and high school counselor to submit a strong, cohesive application by the early deadline.