2 years ago
Admissions Advice

Early decision at a reach school?

I've been pretty torn up about where to apply early decision and if I should do it for a reach school or a target school. I know it increases your chances even a little so should I risk it for a reach or play it safe? I also plan to apply for need-based financial aid and I know that if I can't afford to pay, in the end, I can back out but I read that it's really frowned upon even by other colleges... I'm also worried about the fact that I have to withdraw from other colleges if I get accepted but if I do end up not going because of financial issues I won't have any other options??

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2 answers

Accepted Answer
2 years ago

You should not apply ED or EA to any school unless you are the very top of your game.

If you a.) need to improve your GPA during senior year, b.) need to improve your SAT or ACT test scores, c.) need to form better relationships with your future recommenders, d.) need to improve your ECs so you have better evidence of community service, leadership and any "spike" activities, and lastly e.) if you play a fall sport and need to show some additional athletic/leadership improvement, use the extra time to get your application profile up to compete.

Contrary to the "wives tale" that applying ED or EA improves your chances 2 to 3 times over RD, that is a fallacy. Top schools all have ALDC applicants which are recruited athletes, legacies, development or deans list, and children of faculty and staff. These 4 groups have preferential status and they are the ones that eat up most of the ED/EA slots at a top college. Sometimes 1/2 or more seats are given to ALDCs.

Also keep in mind that if you have a hook like being Black or LatinX or indigenous or come from a marginalized background, are first generation or low income, top 50 colleges all have very progressive DEIA programs that encourage these groups to apply. Besides the "fly in programs" and other virtual marketing efforts, all Top 50 are looking for these types of students to apply.

Lastly keep in mind that there are community service organizations like Questbridge and Posse and others which have an ED program which notifies applicants on December 1 each year which is 2 weeks earlier than official ED dates. This year about 1700 QB students were matched early with Top50 colleges including most of the Ivys and Elites and top Liberal arts colleges.

If you are not an ALDC, have no hook and not involved with a community service group, your chances of getting in ED or EA are not much better than applying RD.

And if you need more time to fortify your application narrative, it actually might be worse for some candidates.

If you are low income (family income less than 65-75K) then most need blind colleges that meet 100% of financial need will give you great financial aid. If you are middle income and above, that is when it might make sense to wait until RD and get more offers to compare financial aid packages. Rather than deciding on applying to Target or Reaches ED, the more important decision is to curate a list of colleges that have historically given a candidate like you the most aid possible.

Top schools are often "seller schools" so they mostly give financial aid to "low income" or "marginalized" applicants. Everyone else is on a sliding scale and wealthy kids pay full ride prices. "Buyer" schools are typically 2nd, 3rd and 4th tier schools that don't have the same clout and demand. For them, it's like trying to sell an American car versus a Toyota or Tesla. They have to give out great financing on loans or "merit" based aid to get their yields up and enroll a full class. Buyer schools are like CaseWestern, Tulane, University of Miami, University of Alabama, Connecticut College, Lafayette College, University of Pittsburgh.

Good luck !

2 years ago

Hi, thank you for asking your question! I agree with everything that @CameronBameron has said in the previous response. If you are on the fence about applying ED, and there are financial and school preferences that are swaying your decision making, then you may not want to apply ED. Once you apply ED you are legally committing yourself to attending a school, even if you have to pay sticker price. Here are four common reasons why students decide NOT to apply ED.

Additionally, although ED does provide a slight advantage to your admissions chances (roughly 10-15% increase in chances) it would not be enough to bring your reach school into a safety range. To find more information about your chances to specific schools, I would recommend you check out our chancing engine on our site. Looking purely at college admissions strategy, you would be better off applying early admissions to a school in your high target or target range than a school in the reach range.

Hope this helps!

What are your chances of acceptance?
Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
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Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

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