10/03/2013 03:45 pm ET Updated Dec 03, 2013

Deciding How to Apply

The applications process is a complex one. Different colleges have different kinds of admission policies, open admission, selective admission and competitive admission. Then you need to decide if you should apply as an early action or early decision candidate.

First, let's look the different types of admission policies and what they mean. Open admission means the school will admit all high school graduates. Community colleges are typically open admission schools. However some city and state schools also have an open admission policy.

Selective admission schools will typically admit most students that meet certain course, rank, ACT/SAT, or grade requirements. Many public (state), and some private institutions would be included in this group.

Competitive admission schools are schools with selective requirements but many more students apply than can be admitted. So you are competing for the openings based on your record beyond the minimum requirements. Competitive schools are ranked among themselves as very competitive, highly competitive and most competitive these rankings are based on the percentage of applicants that are admitted ranging from 60-75 percent for very competitive to fewer than 40 percent of applicants admitted at the most competitive schools.

There are two early admission plans early decision and early action they both give you early notification of acceptance but they are very different.

Early decision is binding meaning if you are accepted you must attend. Students are typically notified they have been accepted in mid to late December. You may apply to other colleges as a regular candidate but if the early decision college admits you all other applications must be withdrawn. The early decision binding agreement must be taken seriously. If the student is accepted then wants to go elsewhere they need to know that other competitive colleges will honor each other's binding agreements and the student could end up with nowhere to go. The only way out of the binding agreement is if the college offers you a financial aid package that your family cannot afford.

Students applying early decision may not have fully considered all their options. They cannot compare offers of financial aid from other colleges. Students have no leverage to negotiate a better offer of financial aid because the school knows they are committed to attending. If the student must have financial aid to attend applying early decision can be a mistake.

Many students apply as early candidates because the acceptance rates are higher for early admissions candidates than for students that apply regular admissions. However, there is a debate on why this is true; some people feel that the early applicant pool is stronger than that of the regular pool which accounts for the higher acceptance rate.

There are two types of Early Action applications the standard early action and the single early action. Neither type of early action is binding. With standard early action the student is free to apply to other schools and can even make other early action applications. The single early action applications require the student to apply early action to only one school.

Either early action gives you early notice of admittance in January or February but you don't have to commit to attending until the May 1st national deadline. This gives you time to think about your options and review offers of financial aid made from other schools.

We advise students that want early notification of acceptance to apply early action not early decision. Selecting the college you will attend is a big decision, one that requires a good deal of soul searching and financial consideration. Don't become so consumed with needing an answer from a school that you give up your options before you even get them.

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