Applying Early Decision to College or Graduate Programs

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Hello, World.

As summer draws to a close, and admissions season begins to flourish, I wanted to share my thoughts on early decision admissions. While I know this is more common for high school applicants applying to college, I also recognize that various law schools allow for the option for students to apply early to law school. So, I’m sharing the four biggest considerations I think anyone who is thinking of applying early should consider. To give a little background, I applied early to Dartmouth College in October or November of 2011, only to have my heart broken in December of the same year. However, I am thankful I applied early because, had I not, there is a chance I would have had to wait until April or so to know what my fate would be in terms of attending that college. So, I know many people often wonder if they should apply early if they have their heart set on a particular school. Here’s what you should think about if this is you:

If you got in, would you attend? This is obviously the most basic, yet most important consideration. If you know, without a doubt, that you would go there instead of any other school or any other school’s offer, you may want to apply early. If you find out earlier that you got in, that’s great! If you find out later that you got in, great, but you waited for nothing. If you find out earlier that you didn’t get in, do you have a good backup plan?

Are you willing to withdraw your other applications? A stipulation of binding early decision is that you must attend if you are offered admission, which means you have to, upon being offered admission, withdraw your applications from all other schools. If you didn’t immediately answer yes to my first consideration, you may want to ask if you’re willing to do this step. If you are not, you may want to apply regular decision or only apply early to schools that offer nonbinding early action.

Have you visited the school, met with professors or met with current students? While you may think that a school is made for you from their website, the course catalog, all the college books, etc., you may not fully know if a school is best for you until you’re standing on campus. I highly highly recommend visiting, meeting with faculty and students, etc. and getting as much information as possible about the school before applying early. I imagine it’s an awful feeling when you apply to a school early, get there in August and by October you realize it’s not the right fit.

If you are not offered admission, is there another school you’d love to go to? Sometimes you aren’t offered admission to the school you apply early to, and that’s completely okay. I remember when I didn’t get in, I had lunch with a current Dartmouth student a few days later and he kept saying “are you sure you weren’t deferred? They usually don’t just flat out reject people. Usually, people get deferred to the regular decision pool.” My high school-self took each of the comments as a punch in the stomach as I timidly said, “yeah, I’m sure. They rejected me.” The current me would have said, “they didn’t want me. *laugh* Their loss.” However, getting rejected from Dartmouth was the best thing that could have happened. Had I gotten in, I would have likely stayed a semester before transferring to my hometown’s state university, homesick and miserable. I ended up at an amazing college with incredible people who left an irreplaceable impression on my soul (Woah, that was mildly dramatic, but hey, I love my Gaels). So, enough about me, what I wanted to convey is that if there’s another school you think you’d be happy at, you should evaluate whether you want to figure that out sooner or later. If you get a rejection in December, you will have more time to find the right fit. If you wait, you may have a matter of weeks to accept admission from another school. If you don’t really care either way, apply regular decision. As I said, a lot of places only offer binding early decision. If you’re not 100% sure, but 99% percent sure, I’d still say wait because that 1% is enough to give you pause.

Now, as I said when I started this post, there are positives and negatives to applying early. It’s your job to weigh them and figure out the best applying plan for you. However, if you have any semblance of hesitation, I suggest waiting and applying regular decision!

Callie Leigh

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