As the school year rolls around, the college application process is in full swing. Terms such as “early action” or “early decision” are common for students looking to be admitted to a school much earlier than the standard admission deadline. If your student is thinking about applying early it is important to know all the facts.
Know the difference:
Early decision (ED) is a binding decision to attend a specific school. Students applying early decision commit to one specific school as early as the fall semester of senior year, foregoing admission to any other institution. Early Action (EA) is a non-binding admissions process where students are notified very early of their acceptance but may choose to attend a different school.
Early decision: How’s it paid for?
Parents be wary: Early decision requires organization and a clear path to cover the balance. The biggest challenge associated with early decision is affordability since the choice was made without comparing financial aid offers from other schools. If the financial aid offered to your student is too low, families have the option to appeal the decision and reject if needed. Going through early decision only to have your student admitted without a favorable financial package is a stressful situation. It’s expected that students submit one early decision application, but also encourage your child to submit standard applications to other schools by agreeing to withdraw those applications if accepted for the early decision school. There is a wide gap from early admissions beginning in November to when standard admissions deposits are due in May, so be aware of deadlines to know when a final decision is required.
Early action: What are my options?
Early action requires organization to meet early deadlines but can relieve stress in the long run. This option allows for families to compare financial aid offers without being bound to any institution. Early action has become much more common to help students zero in on their final college choice after recognizing all their best options. Early action does require a pro-active approach to make sure each school has all admissions and financial aid information available allowing for clear comparisons between offers.
Financial aid applications are early too:
The FAFSA and CSS Profile become available October 1 for college students. This date allows for schools to begin sorting through financial aid requests and early admission applications. For families handling early admissions, this earlier date hopefully provides more breathing room to compare options.
Merit-based vs need-based funding:
Remember the differences in college funding. Grants are need-based financial aid awards provided by federal, state and school programs considering income and asset information on the FAFSA and/or CSS Profile. Merit-based scholarships are awarded to students considering high test scores, grades, sports, community service and other student qualities and achievements. When making a final choice about early admissions, make sure the financial aid award letter accounts for both need-based and merit-based funding eligibility. You want a complete financial picture when comparing school options, which is why all your financial aid documentation needs to be filed as early as possible.