Bates takes 47 percent of its early decision pool and 22 percent of regular applicants. Lafayette College most recently admitted 56 percent of those who applied early decision, compared to 31 percent of the regular pool.
[See 50 colleges with high early admission rates.]
The big hitch with binding early decision is that students hoping for the best possible financial aid package won't be able to compare offers, which are made in March. When an award turns out to be too skimpy, schools will typically release you from your commitment. But by then it may be too late to apply elsewhere.
While financial aid offices will typically estimate your share of costs before you apply, being proactive is key. "Say, 'These are my numbers, can you give me a rough estimate?'" advises Barry Baker, director of college counseling at the California Academy of Math and Science in Carson.
Most teens, especially lower-income students and those in public schools whose counselors are overtaxed, don't get advice on the finer points of applying early. With their latest program iterations, Harvard, Princeton, and U.Va. have vowed to level the playing field through recruiting efforts and a focus on financial aid.
Roberts says U.Va. chose early action this time instead of reinstating early decision because data at peer institutions indicate it often draws students from all economic and racial groups at nearly the same rate as regular decision. "Early action gives you more flexibility to compare financial aid offers," he notes.
[Consider these options to cut college costs.]
Early action, since it's not binding, won't give you that admissions edge. Still, it can be an excellent option for students who crave certainty in spring semester but don't have a clear first choice and so benefit by having until May 1 to commit to a school and an aid package.
"When I hear students say, 'I don't know where I'm going to apply but I know I want to apply early decision,' that's absolutely the wrong approach. Those are the students that are going to have some regrets," says Wake Forest Dean of Admissions Martha Allman, who applied early decision to the school herself.
"ED is for those who have done admissions research early and have a firm understanding of the implications of the agreement and who have an unwavering commitment to their dream school."
That describes Cerniglia, who fell hard for Bates during a visit the summer after his junior year and had no doubts about proclaiming the school his only choice.
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