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In the world of college admissions, November marks the beginning of the Early Decision application review process. Deadlines are upon us for candidates who have identified their "first choice" college. Most "ED" programs offer early notification to students who are willing to make this commitment, and who promise to withdraw all other applications if admitted. Applying for Early Decision usually also provides a slight advantage in the acceptance rate. Most ED candidates are well-matched to the institution. Their eagerness to attend, and frankly, the appeal to the admissions staff of a guaranteed enrollment, makes the program attractive on both sides.

ED programs have gained tremendous media attention in recent years, a phenomenon which most admission officers trace to 1995 when several prominent colleges — Stanford, Yale and Princeton — began early decision programs. The public soon learned that at these and other elite schools the odds for admission improved via ED, and that roughly a third of the entering class enrolled through ED. (A few highly selective institutions enroll as many as 40 to 50 percent of their class through ED, but this is truly the rare exception. Careful distinction must be drawn, too, between binding ED offers, and admission through non-binding Early Action, where notice of admission does not require the student to forego filing other applications.)

The increased public awareness of all the issues surrounding Early Decision also adds unfortunate anxiety to an already difficult and momentous decision for any high school senior. This year the hype over ED seems to have settled down somewhat, yet many students and parents are anxious about Early Decision or finding an ED choice. It is not uncommon to hear a student say, "I know I’m applying early, but I don’t know where."

Discovering a first-choice college should be the outcome of a thorough college search, not the goal that pre-empts that search. Much time passes between November and May 1 of the senior year in high school. The most disappointing scenario of all can be the student who is admitted to his or her ED choice, only to have regrets next spring when friends are choosing among several offers of admission.

Colgate’s recent Early Decision numbers have grown in response to the talent and interest of our candidates, but we are not in the "extreme" of ED practices. In 1997 we received 443 Early Decision applications and enrolled 210, which represents 29 percent of the class of 2001. The ED acceptance rate was 47 percent, compared to 41 percent of our regular decision candidates. These figures compare to 26 percent of the Class of 2000 enrolling through ED, with an acceptance rate of 46 percent on a pool of 409 candidates. The credentials of ED candidates are strong, yet our regular pool of nearly 5500 students also contains superb candidates whom we want to admit and enroll. Our selectivity also means we must choose among many qualified and deserving students, in both the early and regular reviews.

We offer two cycles of Early Decision review, in large part to respond to the student who reaches a "first choice" a bit later in the process. Early Decision Option I requires an application by November 15, and a decision is made by December 15. For Option II, students apply by January 15, our regular admission deadline, enclosing an ED Agreement. Regular applicants may also convert to ED Option II by filing the Early Decision agreement any time through February. Notification occurs on a rolling basis beginning in early January; decisions are made within four weeks of the completed ED-II application. Regular admission decisions on the bulk of the applicant pool are mailed by April 1, and student responses are due May 1.

My advice to any college candidate is to think about the ED option, but not to let the potential edge in admission distract you from a thorough search for the best match with your talents. Finally, if you are admitted through Early Decision it is tempting to keep applications open at other colleges. Many colleges do exchange information on admitted ED students, however, and you could very well wind up losing both your ED and any regular offers of admission if you tempt fate (I’ve seen it happen). Early Decision is a privilege, and a terrific option, if you first do yourself the favor of considering ALL the options.

Mary F. Hill '83
Dean of Admission