By Hooman D
How To Apply for College
Applying to college can seem daunting and overwhelming at times, especially with the wide variety of accelerated programs that colleges offer for filing applications early and receiving admissions decisions ahead of other applicants. For a college-bound high school student, understanding the different application options is vital to your planning, time management, and ability to meet critical deadlines.
College Applications: Early Action
Of the different accelerated application options colleges offer, early action is perhaps the most popular, yet most misunderstood one. With early action, you submit and finalize your college applications, including high school transcripts, standardized test score reports, letters of recommendation, essays and personal statements, and application fees, by November 1 to November 15 of your senior year. This is in contrast to regular application deadlines, which for most colleges are two months later than the early action deadlines.
The advantage of applying early action is that you get faster turnaround and earlier responses from colleges. Most early action programs notify applicants of admission decisions by mid- to late-December, as opposed to regular deadline programs, which don’t send out admission decisions until mid-March at the earliest – and more typically, until mid-April. If you don’t get into the school of your choice via early action, you can always re-apply to that same school by its regular decision deadline for a second chance, or apply to other schools that you didn’t apply to by the early action deadline.
In sum, early action application eases anxiety for many students, as they can gain peace of mind knowing where they’ll be going to college before the New Year or, at least, well before their classmates. Early action also gives you a second chance in case you’re not admitted to your top choice school the first time around. If you like to stay ahead of the curve and plan early, then early action may be the right option for you.
Applying Early Decision for College
Early decision application is often confused with early action application. While the two have similar deadlines and decision notification dates, early decision adds an extra “kink” to the application process: it’s binding, meaning that, if you’re admitted to a college that you applied to via early decision, you are obligated to accept that college’s acceptance offer and enroll at that college the following fall. Once you’ve been admitted to a college via early decision, you’re required to withdraw any other pending applications and turn down any subsequent acceptance offers you may receive from other schools. (You agree to these terms before submitting the early decision application.)
Why, you may ask, would someone bother to apply to college via early decision, given the commitment that’s involved? The answer is that, if you apply to a school on an early decision basis, you’re given significantly higher priority in the application process than you would be if you applied on a regular decision, or even early action, basis. By applying early decision, you’re basically telling the school that they’re you’re top choice and that you promise to enroll there if you’re accepted. This bodes very well in the eyes of the school’s admissions officers, who will view your application in a more favorable light and take it more seriously.
In fact, many students apply early decision to so-called “reach” colleges that they would otherwise have very little chance of being admitted to if they applied any other way. Accordingly, colleges that offer early decision applications are typically Ivy League and other elite universities where admission is extremely selective and competitive.
College VIP Application
The newest, and perhaps most vexing, option in accelerated applications, VIP applications are offered only to top-notch students who score above a minimum cut-off (typically 95th percentile or higher) on the ACT college entrance exam. The idea behind VIP applications is to attract high-caliber students to colleges that they otherwise may not have considered applying to. If you score above the colleges’ ACT cut-off, you’ll receive a condensed online application form during the summer before senior year. The condensed application is significantly less laborious and time-consuming than the standard application, and is designed to make the application process as painless as possible for the select few it’s offered to. If you choose to submit the VIP application, you’ll get top priority turnaround, with a decision in about three weeks.
To find out whether the colleges you’re interested in offer VIP applications, visit the college’s Web site or consult with its representatives at your high school’s college fair. But keep in mind that, even if the college offers VIP applications, the process has to be initiated by the college, not by you. Simply put, VIP application is a privilege, not an entitlement, so you should be very flattered and honored if any college gives you the option of applying VIP. The choice of exercising that option is all yours.
What Does It Mean To You?
What does this all mean for the college-bound high school student, and how does it affect your planning and decision-making? Most students wait until the fall of their senior year to request recommendation letters from teachers, draft application essays, and take any remaining required standardized tests like SAT Subject Tests. But if you have any intention of applying on an early action, early decision, or VIP basis, then you need to get the ball rolling with applications before the summer, not after! As an example, many colleges with early action programs start accepting applications as early as September 1 of senior year. There would be no way to submit your application this early unless you had already lined up your recommendations, finished your essays, and taken all your required tests beforehand.
Where to find Online College Applications
The Common Application : https://www.commonapp.org/CommonApp/default.aspx
College Net: http://cnsearch.collegenet.com/cgi-bin/APPLY/index
Hooman D. is a test prep tutor and college admissions counselor based in the New York area. His areas of expertise include the SAT and ACT college entrance exams, as well as the latest trends and developments in the ever-changing college admissions landscape. Visit his comprehensive test prep, tutoring, and college application FAQ page and blog for additional information and resources.