Over the last 16 months, M has toured 21 schools (19 with me from New Jersey to Missouri and 2 local schools with her high school.) Application season is finally here. There are three ways of applying to a college; "Regular Admission," "Early Action," and "Early Decision." Early decision is binding. This means that if they accept you, you have to attend. Therefore you can only apply to one school Early Decision (ED). Early Action and Regular Decision are non-binding. So why would you apply ED, why not wait to compare financial aid offers? Schools accept a higher percentage of their ED applicants. If you fit their student profile, the school is hard to get into, and it is your clear first choice - it may make sense to apply ED. The downside is that you are bound to the school and loose all negotiating ability when it comes to financial aid.
In the very beginning I gave our stated goal of applying to 7 schools; 2 "reaches", 3 "matches" and 2 "safety schools," but that isn't exactly how it worked out. M is applying to 8 schools, only one of them is a reach and none of them are true safety schools, but many of them are almost guaranteed to accept her.
Let me define those terms again; "reach schools" are schools the student would love to get into but they fall short of that school's typical student profile when it comes to test scores or grade point average, "safety schools" are those where the student exceeds the school's average student. From there I bet you can figure out what makes a "match school."
So here is some data about each school, its students and its rates of acceptance and retention - in the order of M's preference.
Looking at the 25th percentile of ACT scores, you can see that her second favorite school - (a top 15 national university according to US News & World Reports) - is her reach school. And now let's look at school #1; (a top 20 Liberal Arts school). It is a match and it is hard to get into (36% acceptance rate). It could be a candidate for an Early Decision application. So now let's look at the financial side of the equation, one of my sources calculated that with our situation, school #1 should be the second cheapest school on the list - with an annual cost of less than $19,000. The only school cheaper is the only public school and the one ranked last on her list. Also when we toured school #1, they said that they don't negotiate on aid packages, their offers cover 100% of need, and they cap loans at $3,500 per year.
I didn't expect her to apply ED anywhere - as you can see, I didn't even include ED deadlines in my table - but all of the stars lined up and M asked to apply ED to school #1, so I agreed. And we do all need to agree. Applying ED requires the signature of the student, a parent, and a school counselor. We have until the end of the year to send in that additional form.
Notice also that M has a four-way tie for 4th. That is OK. Making artificial fine distinctions in your fall rankings doesn't make much sense. She may very well feel differently in the spring when things really matter - and you don't want the somewhat arbitrary fall rankings to influence her final decision.
The second-last of her 4th ranked schools (when listed alphabetically) is one of the more difficult to get in to (34% acceptance rate) and more like the top 2 in terms of rankings, retention and graduation rates. It is also projected to be among the least expensive. It is a rare liberal arts school in that it offers engineering as a major. You will also note that it is the furthest from home. M & I visited this one on our first trip 16 months ago. In fact it was so long ago that M couldn't remember our visit and wanted to drop it from her list, but I asked her to first meet with their admissions representative when he came through town doing interviews. She liked what he had to say, and I agreed to pay for an 8th application.
The rest of her 4th ranked schools and her 3rd ranked schools are small Midwestern liberal arts schools with similar numbers all up and down the line - I can see why they rank near each other for M.
M still has two applications to complete. She plans to meet an Early Action deadline tomorrow, and a Regular Decision deadline in mid-January. She met a few mid-November Early Action deadlines, so we should get a few decisions before Christmas...
Next Up: Financial Aid (and scholarships?)