3 Things Your Student Should Do If They Receive A Letter Suggesting They Change Their College Application Status To Early Decision

Colleges are increasingly and strategically sending letters to students who have applied regular decision suggesting that they consider converting their application to early decision or “ED” status.

These letters are sent with the goal of increasing the number of students who commit to the college early. This is advantageous to the college because their goal is to accept the minimum number of students necessary to fill all seats in the freshman class. Send too many acceptances and the class is oversubscribed and will appear statistically less competitive. Send too few acceptances and risk that the best students on the waitlist will decide to go elsewhere, yielding a less qualified or perhaps less diverse student body.

For the student, an ED application has a statistically greater chance of being accepted than a regular decision application. However, a student may only apply ED to a single college and, if accepted, the student is required to withdraw all other applications and attend that college. ED is most appropriate for students who started the college admissions process early and visited enough colleges to be highly confident in their number one choice. The primary downside of applying ED is that it can force a student to decide on a college before they are ready. Students can change significantly over the course of senior year. What they want in the fall when the application is due may be vastly different from their preferences in the spring. Applying early decision also eliminates the possibility of comparing the financial aid packages offered by multiple colleges.

If your student receives one of these letters, they should do the following three things:

1. Don’t Panic. This not about you.

Panic should never be part of your admissions process. Your admissions journey is complex, sometimes stressful and the outcomes are very important, but panic will only lead to bad decision making. Don’t hit submit, send or sign anything until your blood pressure drops and you are breathing normally again. These letters are part of the colleges’ admissions process – not yours. Your process involves choosing a school that fits you academically, socially, and financially. Colleges are tasked with filling their classes with the right students and maintaining as competitive a ranking as possible. They are asking you to convert to ED because it is right for them, not necessarily because it is right for you.

2. Consider it an affirmation, but with a grain of salt.

Colleges send these letters to candidates that generally fit their admission requirements. You should take the letter as an affirmation that you have achieved the basic criteria (grades, academic rigor, test scores). You could get into this college, but you should not interpret the letter to mean that a change to ED will assure your acceptance. Colleges accept only a small portion of their ED applicants. For example, the University of Pennsylvania accepted only 18.5% of ED applicants for its class of 2022. This statistical reality remains true for applicants who receive these letters. Likewise, you should be aware that a decision to remain a non-ED applicant will not have an adverse impact on your chances of acceptance in the regular applicant pool.

3. Ask yourself this: What has changed?

Realize that nothing being said in the letter is incorrect. Statistically, ED applicants are more likely to be accepted. You always knew this and you originally chose to apply regular decision to this college. You probably had a compelling reason for your original choice. The college is now giving you a chance to change your mind. Use the opportunity to step back, evaluate the list of colleges you’ve applied to, take stock of the additional information you have learned about this college and others since submitting your applications and make an additional visit to one or more of your top choices. Then, make a clear-eyed decision about whether to make the change. Make the leap to ED if you are positive that this school is the right one for you, but once you make the change, remember that the decision is binding. You can only change your mind if the college does not provide enough financial aid for you to attend.

This college is giving you a chance to apply 20/20 hindsight. It is possible that switching to early decision is the exact right move for you. Or perhaps this is an opportunity for you to reconfirm your original application strategy.

This article was originally published on January 17, 2019.


Michelle McAnaney is the founder of The College Spy, a full service independent educational consulting firm that assists students and families across the US and internationally with the college selection and application process. Prior to founding The College Spy, Michelle was a guidance counselor and educator for more than 15 years, including serving as the Director of Guidance at two high schools, an adjunct college professor and a GED tutor. Michelle holds a master’s degree in school counseling and a bachelor’s degree in human development. She recently completed UC Irvine’s certificate program in educational consulting and is a MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) Certified Practitioner and a NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) Master Practitioner. Michelle visits over 40 colleges each year so that she has first-hand knowledge of the colleges and universities her clients will be considering.

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