If you are the parent of a high school senior, you have my congratulations for making it this far and my sympathy for the chaos the college admissions process can bring.
Right now, I truly empathize with families weighing the pros and cons of applying early to colleges. Remember, Early Decision is binding, while Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, and Priority Deadlines are not.
I view this process as a dating process. Some people marry the first person they date. That is Early Decision. Others date a number of people and they marry the right person. That is Early Action or Regular Action.
Applying to college is similar. We need to give students the chance to sample colleges before they narrow in. Of course, kids fall in love with colleges, and colleges love that. Early Decision enables them to fill up anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of their classes with passionate students, most of whom can pay all costs.
While Early Decision does definitely increase your child's chances of getting admitted, your child should only apply if he or she is in the zone for that college and is in love with it. There is no going back if your child gets admitted and then has second thoughts. Early Decision is legally binding, and the only way out is if the college does not meet your financial aid needs, and by then few options remain.
Many families make the wrong decision in having a child apply Early Decision. Often the school is so far out the child's league that it is a wasted application. Often the child has made academic gains and needs to show fall grades. The child sometimes needs to take November and December tests because current test scores are not quite where they can be.
Please don't force your child to apply to a school that is wrong for her or that is so far out of her reach that a denial is most likely.
Focusing on schools within your child's reach is much healthier. Moreover, if your child is applying Early Decision, please make sure all of her other applications are ready to go by the decision date as there is nothing worse than getting deferred or rejected and having to do your other applications.
As you research a school for Early Decision, your child should visit the school this fall to make sure. Applying to an Early Decision school without visiting is a major mistake for your child and for the college. The college wants to know your child really wants to go. Your child needs to see herself on campus -- going to classes, sleeping in the dorms, meeting with students and faculty.
There are several other great options for students not ready for Early Decision. Early Action is another great way to apply to colleges. They have early deadlines and let you know in December or January. Their decisions are not binding. That gives students some options early on. Again, seniors must meet the academic and testing requirements as fall grades and later test scores are not considered.
Now, many kids fall in love with schools, and Early Decision is the true path for them.
Last year, I worked with a young lady who passionately wanted to attend a university that her high school and even I worried would not admit her. But she was determined and did all she could and got admitted. Another young man who wanted to go to the same school also applied Early Decision. He was denied, and thankfully so as he is now happily attending another college with his dream major.
Kids find their way. Please help them make wise decisions that do not lead to complete heartbreak in mid-December and ruined holiday vacations.