If you’re NOT applying to a conservatory or fine arts school with a single-admission system, than you have to consider playing the Early game.
When you get done making up your short list, you will have a top school to which you want to apply. The two questions are:
- How “top” is it, for you, personally?
- What do I bring to the table for the school?
If you think, on the second question, that’s just killer grades, then think again. Performing, fine arts, and digital media students, in particular, bring skillsets to the table that colleges of all sizes need. Schools have a lot of reasons, beyond your being a great student, of needing you on campus.
WHY APPLY EARLY?
Applying early has several advantages. You get:
- A yes, no, or deferral to regular decision well ahead of spring announcements for regular decision;
- More time to work on financial aid packages with the schools that admitted you;
- A second shot, at most institutions without rolling admission, if you are deferred to the regular admission round.
WHY AVOID APPLYING EARLY
Ask the “common wisdom” and it is because of money commitments, or because you don’t have the grades or SAT/ACT scores. For the most part, both are wrong, but more on that in a moment. Why shouldn’t you apply early?
- You are unsure about the school – Even though only Early Decision requires an absolute commitment, the Early Action process is still indicating that you love the school, and want to be there. Don’t use it just to get an early acceptance from ANY school, or because a parent or guidance counselor or advisor thinks that you should go there. This is your life, and your call. Be sure before you pull that trigger.
- Applying without doing your homework – If you haven’t thoroughly checked out the faculty in your intended major, whether it is Harvard or Palm Beach State, and all of the issues with living and attending classes at a campus, then don’t apply early. It is best to visit schools to “kick the tires.” If you can’t afford to do that, email the school in question’s admissions officer for your state. Tell them that you are interested in applying early, but, because you can’t afford to travel for the visit, you would like to see if you can meet with alumni in your area to find out more about the school.
Anyone can apply early. More reasonable chances of acceptance come from being smart, and picking majors well. If you want to get into a popular major, one of the “Pre-s” like Pre-Law or Pre-Med, or Business, particularly at big-student body schools, applying early can be mission critical.
There is an alternative strategy, though, to early admissions that also works: If you HAVE to go to a school, pick majors that are in your interest area, but out of the stampede zone.
Pre-Med and not holding a 5.0 HPA with a million APs with 5 scores? Try any of the biological sciences, or chemistry, and just follow the same course-track that the “pre-Meds” do. You may be better off anyway, as our article on the advances in robotics and AI in medicine, law, and other fields, demonstrates. A lot of work is being done in these fields that isn’t going to be on that traditional “medicine” or law track.
There are majors which parents and students tend to shun that are just as valid a way of getting through an undergraduate education, and, more importantly, getting in.
- Classics / Classical Literature
- Geography / Human Geography
They all need students. Be one of them. They increase your likelihood of admit if you’re the answer to a need that the school has to fill. There are CEOs with undergraduate philosophy degrees. Just make sure you take courses that move forward towards your long-term goals.
DOES MY ART AREA HELP ME?
Yes! Especially in small and medium-sized colleges, where they get fewer applicants from top performing and fine arts schools. Best to contact the professors in your art area, even if you are going to minor, or just be part of the school’s recreational program for it. See if you can do a Skype lesson, have your portfolio reviewed, send a recording, or a video. Many schools now even offer that as part of their common app.
GENERAL ADMISSIONS CRITERIA ARE STILL IN PLAY
Aside from the dozens of other considerations that the school wanted on that day, in that year, including, but not limited to:
- Social, racial, geographical and other student body diversity goals;
- Skill sets or talents, of which the school had too little;
- Political connections to the school
- Talent needs, including sports, the arts, social activism, and more.
WHAT WAYS CAN I APPLY EARLY TO A SCHOOL:
There are three main early admits, with a few wrinkles in each state. Here are four.
Florida residents have the Florida Secret: If you apply before November 1st, you get notifications as early as November for the state schools like University of Central Florida, University of Florida, and Florida State University, among others. Anyone in Florida can apply, without designating as Early Decision or Early Action. You are not committed to go, just as with Early Action. If you want to go to UF, which, thanks to Florida Prepaid and Bright Futures has become highly overpopulated, you have to make the early, November 1 deadline now. They are also continuing to work on a national footprint in their admissions, so they are taking fewer Florida students as a result.
Rather than having a special program, some schools just begin admitting people once their enrollment process opens. These are usually larger schools, which are often less selective about filling their enrollment rosters with people based on their diversity elements. What are those? They can be obvious ones like race or geography, to less obvious parts of your resumé like freestyle Frisbee or that you speak a language.
If you want to attend, best to apply as EARLY as you can, anyway, so you can grab a spot!
Early Action (EA) is the increasingly more common form of early application. With the exceptions of a few schools like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, which have “Restricted” Early Action, limiting you to one EA school, most other schools are “unrestricted,” which means that you can apply to more than one school as an EA and not only get an answer early. If that answer is “deferred,” meaning that they didn’t take you early, you have another shot of getting into one of your top schools.
Early Action, unless the school says otherwise, is not a financial commitment to go there. You can still turn them down. You are letting them know that they are a top choice and that you are likely to come there. They’re just letting you know that they want you, which might also suggest that they will do more financially to keep you on their admit list when it comes to the separate, very firewalled, bit of haggling over money with the financial aid office.
Early Decision (ED) means that the school is your first choice. You and your parents are required to sign a document promising that you will withdraw from all other schools’ pools when chosen, in exchange for an early acceptance. You also agree that you are financially committed to going to the school.
It’s the older and more traditional form of early admittance, and many families back off of it because they worry about that financial commitment.
If your top choice is an ED school, then don’t give up, and go into the broader, regular pool, because of worries about the money. The financial aid office is very separate from the admissions office at any school, to avoid making money a determining factor in admissions decisions.
You, or your parent, should contact the financial aid officer who deals with either your part of the country, or with ED. They can help you crunch the numbers to determine if your dreams and your pocket-book meet. Don’t assume, without having run your financial aid profile through the FAFSA system, or without having spoken to the school’s financial aid office, that it is outside of your reach.
Don’t ask? Don’t get.
WHAT ARE MY CHANCES OF A YES?
The best way to know how your chances will be is to look at the scattergrams of admissions for your school over the last year or two. It’s not an absolute guarantee that you will or won’t be a high likelihood, as schools’ needs change a lot from year-to-year. Remember that they are building a “city” of people, highly diverse, so grades and test scores are only a component. Bottom line is that you have nothing to lose by trying if you’re in range of their general admits, high to low. You have a lot to gain if your commitment is rewarded with a “Yes!” If you are declined, then you would have been anyway in the general pool. If you are deferred and then declined, you were in contention, but didn’t meet a need for that school.
It’s never personal, or based on single factors like grades, test scores, racial profile, gender, etc.
Remember again: Don’t ask. Don’t get. You have nothing to lose by trying, as long as you are willing to pay the application fee.
A GREAT OPTION THAT SHOULD BE PART OF YOUR STRATEGY
Every year, schools receive a ton of applications. UCLA peaked out in 2016-2017 with over 100,000 applications, the first time in history a school broke the 100K mark!
That’s for them to worry about, though, not you. It doesn’t mean that you stand any worse chance of getting in, BUT, all schools struggle with wondering who is really going to come to their campus, and who is making them a lower choice of a dozen or more schools.
As long as you know the rules for each school, you have nothing to lose, and a lot to gain, by applying through the EA system. If you can get the “dream” ED school to give you some peace-of-mind on the money, then ED is a great option too. Both tell a school that you are a high likelihood pick, and one of their preferred prospects!
The opportunity to get a second round for your top picks is a big one. Not everyone deferred is automatically accepted in the regular decision period. Sometimes someone who fits their social/major dynamics in regular admission still is a better “fit” than you for that year, for that school. Still, there is a higher chance, in the regular round, that you will be admitted, which is why EA and ED are still around!