How to Know if You Should Apply to College Early

The bar might be lower, but a search for financial aid could suffer.

Financial aid prospects could be slimmer for students applying early to college.
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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.

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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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