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Fact or Fiction: Demystifying 4 Common Early Admissions Myths

Applying to college is one of the most stressful times in any pre-collegiette’s life. Not only are we expected to make potentially life-altering decisions about our future, but we are also expected to do so while juggling a steady stream of high school classes, extracurriculars, and social obligations. In order to ease the burden of senior year, many collegiettes choose to go down an alternate path: early admissions, a type of college application that is usually due mid-October and mid-November, but it can be confusing too. Here are four of the most common early admission myths, debunked.

Myth: Early Action and Early Decision are the same.

Before choosing to apply to college through an Early Admissions program, be sure to do your research. While both Early Action and Early Decision are based on the same principle—applicants typically apply in October or November and receive their college acceptance decisions by mid-December—the two programs are radically different. Early Decision programs offer a binding early admissions—binding being the key word. Applicants accepted to these schools enter into a contract with the school: if accepted, their matriculation is required.

By contrast, Early Action is typically non-binding. This means that, as an applicant, you are permitted to apply to multiple schools in addition to your Early Action Application (including other Early Action schools) and are not required to withdraw any other applications if you get in. In fact, non-binding Early Action applicants are not required to commit to their school of choice until the regular application acceptance deadline, typically May 1st.

What does this mean for you? If you’re 100% committed to attending your dream school, consider applying through an early decision program, if they offer it. If you’re still not convinced, hold off until the regular admissions deadline to allow yourself some time to think.

In addition to Early Decision and Early Action, some schools offer a program called Single Choice Early Action. Through this program, you can submit a non-binding, early application and still apply to other schools through Regular Decision. If you're accepted, you do not need to let your SCEA school know if you will enroll until the spring.

This means that if you apply SCEA, that’s the only Early Action application you’ll be allowed to submit. In all cases, before choosing to apply Early Admission to any schools, be sure to check out all restrictions that the program has in place – especially since SCEA restrictions vary from school to school.

Myth: Your chances of acceptance improve when you apply through Early Admissions.

Does submitting your application early truly offer any benefit over other applicants? Nobody knows for certain. Sara Brookshire Cummings, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Emerson College, says that Emerson’s admissions criteria remain the same regardless of which application deadline the student meets. “We often find a very motivated, self-selecting group of students who apply to Emerson College through the Early Action program. They have identified Emerson as one of their top choice schools, know what our admission standards are, and are eager to hear from us early on,” she says.

Sarah Kahwash, a junior at Kenyon College in Ohio, holds similar beliefs. “I applied Early Action to Georgetown University. I don’t recall Georgetown telling me that there was a benefit to the Early Action option, but my college counselors encouraged me to take advantage of it simply because of the timeframe.”

Myth: Legacy status will always give you a leg up on the competition.

For Katrina, a sophomore at the University of Virginia, this meant putting aside her double legacy status at Duke University for a shot at a binding acceptance to Northwestern University. “I really felt as though [Early Decision] would help me get in. I got it in my head that if I applied early I would get in. Of course, I was much more crushed when I didn’t.” While schools do not typically say outright whether or not Early Admissions applicants gain an advantage over Regular Decision students, Katrina explains that Duke made it very clear that her legacy status would be relevant only during Early Decision.

“I liked Duke, but I didn’t love it. I decided to apply early somewhere else instead. I regret every day not applying early and not knowing if I could have gotten in to Duke,” she says.

While legacy may give you an advantage in applying early at some schools, check with each school to learn more about their policies.

Myth: Early Decision is legally binding.

One interesting aspect of the Early Decision program is the honor system that it is run on. At no point during the application process do students legally bind themselves to their school of choice—at least, not in a way that would hold up in a court of law. Schools do, though, reserve the right to withdraw their acceptance if they discover you’ve been cheating on them with another school. Furthermore, they also reserve the right to inform other Early Decision schools that you’ve been playing the field, potentially harming your chances of being accepted anywhere else. Cummings recommends that students remain cognizant of the differences between binding and non-binding programs. “It’s amazing how much things can change in the period of an academic year. I have met students who had their heart set on one college or university and later changed their mind when they were already in a binding contract.”

Another problematic element of applying through Early Admissions—particularly Early Decision—is the binding aspect of the program. Once you are accepted through Early Decision, you are required to withdraw all other applications you may have submitted to other schools. While this also means that collegiettes will typically be bound to the financial aid package their school offers them, insufficient financial assistance is oftentimes the only tried-and-true acceptable reason why a student may break an Early Decision contract.

Now that some of the most common Early Application myths have been debunked, pre-collegiettes can take some time to make the right decision for their own college application process.

Lauren is a 20-something writer, baker, photographer, and compulsive e-mail checker. In her spare time, she is a Writing, Literature, and Publishing major at Emerson College, with a focus on nonfiction and screenwriting. When she isn't writing, she is enjoys reading Kurt Vonnegut, frosting cupcakes, and quoting Tina Fey's cinematic masterpiece Mean Girls. Sometime in the near future, she hopes to write for GQ, win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and compete on the Food Network's Cupcake Wars--not necessarily in that order.
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