06/22/2011 02:59 pm ET | Updated Aug 22, 2011

Early Decision, Late Opinion

He who hesitates is sometimes saved. - James Thurber

Recipe of the Day: College Application Fricassee

Start with a generous helping of nervous high school students. Give them all a considerably less generous pool of colleges to choose from. Add fear with a side of overbearing parental influence. Hold scholarships just out of reach. Keep tissues close at hand. Then, in spite of it all, prepare for possibly the best four years of your life. Mix thoroughly.

For added flavor, introduce the concept of 'Early Decision.'


Early decision is a binding way of applying to a college early. I just have one question: how scary is that?! Yes, it's very convenient, even relieving, to have the option of applying early. It's one less thing to worry about during the year. But then, you reread the first sentence of this paragraph, see the word "binding" and become stressed out even more. As stereotypical as it sounds, teenagers really can be insanely indecisive. One day we love Zac Efron; the next, we're swooning over Justin Bieber and/or Darren Criss. Before the game, we're cheering on the Lakers; halfway through the game, we're changing the channel. We're fickle; we know. So, when given the daunting task of choosing a college, how are we supposed to know that by the end of the year we'll still even like the college we applied to early on? That's the beauty of early decision's non-binding counterpart 'Early Action': we still find out early, but we don't lose the power to decide.

Sidebar: It's always bothered me that early action gives you the power to decide, while early decision lets that college act for you. On the basis of name alone, shouldn't the roles of the two be reversed? Maybe it's just me.

As Thurber points out in the quote above, hesitating does have its perks. We spend so much of our lives running toward perfection via an Ivy League education that we often ignore the scenery. The aspiring singer could get laryngitis, crochet herself a scarf, and become a world-renowned designer. The star volleyball player could break an arm, start cracking jokes about it, and become a famous stand-up comedian. Although those hesitations were out of their control, they still opened up a whole new world of opportunities. In the context of college, what if an aspiring physics major is studying for a midterm, makes a song to help remember some terms/equations, and finds a passion for singing as a result? Just like that, the college with a great physics program that he/she applied early decision to has now become useless. The only thing left to do is to cross his/her fingers and hope to get deferred to the regular decision pool, if not denied entirely. Look at that: more stress.

Moral of the story: college can be a stressful process for many reasons, early decision being one of them. No amount of coaching or encouragement or denial can change that. We change our minds, our clothes, our hair, etc. all the time. So, why even give us a binding option? For those of us who feel we really know where we want to go, early action is perfect, still giving us the opportunity to change our minds. If we don't, we still have an answer from a college ahead of time; everybody wins. It also helps that schools such as Yale and Stanford recently stopped offering early decision entirely. Instead, they now offer single-choice early action, a stressful restriction all its own. Don't let that completely stop you, though. It still is early action, so you do retain some ability to decide. (That still bothers me...)


What do you think?