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The 8 Hardest Things about Picking an Early Application School

By Zach Shalett - The Hackley School - New York

So, you’re applying to college! You’ve watched high school generations reach this point before, all to emerge successfully. Before school starts in fall, there are already discussions of “applying early,” but what exactly does that mean for you? Here are the eight hardest parts about deciding among early choices, from simplest to toughest.

“And may the odds be ever in your favor.”

- Suzanne Collins (Effie Trinket), The Hunger Games

1. Is Applying Early Even For Me?

How to start answering this question? First, you have to have everything ready two months before “Regular” application deadlines in January. That means you have to have your personal statement, relevant supplements, and attitude all good to go by November 1st (in most cases). That’s pretty early! Secondly, it usually involves a lot of commitment to the school. For “Early Decision” or “ED” schools, this means if you get in, you’re enrolling next year, no backing out. While applying early is thought to increase your chances, it’s not for everyone.

2. The Three Types of “Early” - Rolling, Early Action, Early Decision

There isn’t just “early” and “regular” avenues for application. There’s Rolling, which means you can apply as soon as you’re ready, and you find out pretty quickly after that whether you got in or not. There’s also early decision, which is fully committal. Early action, which is just like early decision in that you find out around mid-December after a November 1st deadline, is NOT committal - if you get in, you can still choose to go somewhere else later on. You can only go ED to one school, and that policy of “single choice” is now becoming popular even among early action schools.

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3. Learning About the Process

In most cases, your early application is also your first one. This means nervousness and usually a few occasions of confusion. You have to take your first wary steps into the Common App, learning the website and finding your essay voice as you go. There’s a first time for everything; don’t be scared to ask for help!

4.  Dealing with the Desire to “Just be Done”

As tough as junior year is will all of its standardized testing, senior year (especially in fall) is still one notch harder. It is not uncommon to grow a nagging desire to finish the stressful process as fast as possible, applying early to a pretty safe school and just riding that one option. While understandable, it is imperative to weigh the effects of this course of action. Where you go to college is where you spend the next 4 years, and potentially the best 4 years of your young life! Take it seriously, as it’s definitely worthwhile to choose right.

5. Resisting the “Herd” Mentality in Order to Become Independent

It’s vital to choose an early school that’s your choice, for your reasons. After all, it’s your education and experience, not anyone else’s. Certain factors shouldn’t sway where you choose to apply early more than they should. These include the places where your best friends are going, the places you think will make you seem the coolest, the places your parents pressure you to think about, or anywhere you wouldn’t really be happy. It’s easy to just follow the group if everyone’s talking about the same colleges and have a herd mentality, but no one knows you and what you want like yourself.

6. Having a distinct formula to use in making comparisons

Once you’re ready to apply early, you have to decide where exactly. There are so many factors that make up this decision. These can be as small as air conditioning in the dorms and cool local restaurants, to as huge as academics, sports teams, specialized programs, size, and location. Somehow, you’re expected to be able to weigh all of these things to choose the best spot to apply. The best way to do that is to decide beforehand which factors are the most important elements to you, and then to assess everywhere you look on the same general rubric.

7. Optimizing ALL of Your Time

Just like choosing what to order at a fancy restaurant, picking it right takes time. You don’t just point to something and say “whip me up one of those!” You might be allergic, or maybe you accidentally just ordered the hoof casserole. Lining up the perfect early application takes a lot of time, as well as great time management.  You need to have nailed your test scores, written your supps, polished your personal statement, get your teacher recommendations, filled out the whole common app, scoped out every college on your list, done visit after visit after visit, decided on your favorite one, and still have time left to stay afloat in school, sports, and whatever else you’re into! It means you have to grind out a lot of work, and avoid procrastination.

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8. Facing Reality

This process is illogical and unpredictable. Sadly, that is a fact of life for high school seniors nowadays. We’ve all seen it: a super brainiac doesn’t make it into their top choice, but a total slacker finds a spot there just the same. There are no real guarantees. Some schools are looking to fill certain programs, build out elements of a diverse community, recruit from new locations, or try something inexplicable and wild.

On top of that, the school we always dream of when we imagine ourselves at “Perfect University” might not exist - that awesome, sunny, happy place might be halfway across the world, and suddenly it’s a tradeoff. However, the “reality” piece also has a huge upside. That, of course, is the real truth that wherever you go, you’ll make amazing friends, learn all new things, experience unexpected opportunities, grow in many different ways as a person, and be happy! A college’s name is just a name. Reality says it isn’t worth getting too obsessed with or hung up over, no matter what happens. Everyone wins eventually.