college decisions

Decisions, Decisions: Early Decision, Early Action, Instant Decision or Regular Decision

When it comes to your journey to college, you have to answer many important questions:

  • Public or private school?
  • Small or big school?
  • How much can I afford?
  • Which scholarships should I apply to?
  • And so on.

Answering each of these questions brings you one step closer to attending college. However, one of the final questions you must answer may have the most significant impact on where you go to school:

  • Should I apply early decision, early action, instant decision, or regular decision?

Yes, there are many choices of how you can apply to college, and each one comes with a unique set of rules and regulations. In this article, we’ll examine each type of application so you can choose those right for you.

Early Decision

 As the name implies, early decision requires you to decide where you want to go to college before most application deadlines. You apply to one school 1-2 months before regular decision, and you can expect a decision in about six weeks. You may already know the catch: if the school accepts you, you have to go there. No, they won’t drag you off to jail if you don’t attend, but when you send in your early decision application, you’re telling the college that, “Yes, I will 100% go here if you accept me.”

Students who apply early decision have a slightly higher chance of receiving an acceptance letter. Don’t be fooled; schools accept a higher percentage of early decision applicants because these applicants represent the cream of the crop. Finally, schools may decide to push some early decision applicants into the regular decision pile to review their applications again between January and April.

Who should apply early decision?

If you 100% know deep down – you feel it in your bones – that you want to attend a specific college, by all means, apply early decision. And if you get in, more power to you. With that significant weight off your shoulders, you can celebrate during winter break and have a less stressful spring semester.

And if you shouldn’t get in – it happened to me, too – take a moment to grieve before refocusing your energy on your remaining applications.  

Early Action

Want to know if a school will accept you early but not 100% sure you want to attend? Then early action is for you!

Schools that use early action typically have the same application deadlines as schools that use early decision. You receive a decision around the same time as if you had applied early decision, too. But unlike early decision, applying early action does not constitute an agreement to attend a school if it accepts you. Also, you have until May 1st to make your final decision.

Who should apply early action?

You should apply early action if there is a school you love, but you’re not entirely sure you want to attend. Also, consider early action if you want to see how your regular decision applications turn out.

Instant Decision

Don’t let the name fool you. Instant decision takes a little more time than a cup of instant ramen. It’s more like speed dating. Here’s how the process works for some schools:

  • You gather all application materials.
  • You take them to a college on its decision day, also known as D-Day.
  • The college makes an admission decision that same day.

Like with early action, you still have until May 1stto select a college or university. Compared to early decision, early action, and regular decision, instant decision is rare. None of the schools you apply to may use it.

Who should apply instant decision?

Consider instant decision a good choice you want to know your results as soon as possible. D-Day can feel like a gauntlet, however, especially for schools that use interviews, so be ready for the stress. 

Regular Decision

Regular decision represents the bulk of applications colleges and universities receive throughout December and into early January. Schools spend the spring curating their next year’s freshman class before sending out decisions around April 1st. Accepted students have until May 1stto accept an offer.  Schools put some regular decision applicants on a waitlist: these students may not find out until May or June if a school accepts them.

Who should apply regular decision? 

No matter who you are, you should plan to apply regular decision to at least three schools. It’s your best bet to receive one or more acceptances.

Final Thoughts

Applying to college has never been more competitive, and you may think that applying one way or another may give you an advantage. If I were you, I’d push these thoughts out of my mind. Apply early decision/action to your top choice and apply regular decision for the rest of the schools on your shortlist. After that, all you can do is sit back, wait, and continue doing your best in high school until graduation day.

How Does Your College Freshman Choose and Manage College Roommates?

When I went to college I was assigned to a dorm with three roommates. Two of them became lifelong friends, but one of them I could not stand. I remember complaining to the school about her and they did nothing. So since she and I shared the smallest room of our quad, I found a way to move my bookshelf and wardrobe to surround my bed creating a barricade. I’ll never forget the look on her face when she came home that evening and found me hiding behind the tall walls of generic furniture. Well, at least for the remainder of the semester I had a bit more privacy. The following year I opted not to live in a dorm, but got an apartment with one of my friendlier roommates.

So how do you select a roommate you won’t have to barricade yourself from? Something that is different these days are social media introductions. I have gotten a kick out of reading in the acceptance letters, schools inviting students to join the “Accepted Students Facebook Group.” My daughter did just that and noticed many of the student posts tended to be on the subject of looking for roommates. So she started looking too. She and one of the girls whom she had been messaging with learned they had a mutual friend at another college. From this friend the two girls realized they might be great roommates and made that commitment to each other. Then they jointly posted a Facebook message saying they were looking for a third roommate. In the post, they listed their interests and brief bios and they met a third girl with similar traits. The three of them quickly committed to each other as roommates never having met or spoken over the phone. The three decided that if they lived in a quad room with four girls they would have a bigger room, a balcony and maybe an ocean view. They all thought that was worth living with a fourth and they decided not to look for a fourth roommate, but to let the college pick one for them.

All students fill out a questionnaire about what kind of roommate they would like by answering a series of questions from their favorite music, are they a morning person, favorite TV show, are they gamers, do they snore? My daughter filled out this questionnaire too, as well as adding the names of the specific girls she’d like to room with. She hasn’t gotten a confirmation back from the college whether her roommate choices will reflect her desired roommates, but she hopes it will. If for some reason the college makes different roommate suggestions, at least she would have gotten to know two girls pretty well over social media and will have some friendly faces on orientation day.

As far as managing roommates, most colleges assure the students that if they have roommate problems the RA (residential adviser) on their floor will be the first person to talk to. There are several steps in taking to switch roommates and although I have heard it can take a while, eventually the student will most likely get a different placement. We have a friend whose daughter did not like her roommate and asked her dad if she could get a service dog. Because apparently if you have a service dog, you get your own room. Her dad lovingly pointed out that although that might temporarily solve her problem, it didn’t sound like a great life for the dog being inside while she was at classes all day. Eventually this student waited out the wait-list of students requesting single dorms and was given one.

I’m hoping my daughter won’t have to barricade herself from her roommates or get a service dog and I hope the roommates she met through social media will turn out to be friends for life like two of my three roommates have become.

How Do You Make Your Decision Once All the Decisions Are In?

This is a pretty exciting week for seniors as the college decisions begin to arrive. If your student is fortunate to have been accepted to several colleges, then decision time is here. My daughter is still waiting on about five colleges to send their decision letters, but the majority have come in.

So what now? How to decide where to go? Several factors fall into play and cost is at the top of the list for most people. You’ll find that the offers and financial aid vary from school to school. Private universities and college acceptance letters usually come with a financial aid offer. We are still waiting on financial aid from the UC schools.

So once you narrow down the schools you can afford, what next? Most colleges offer tours for accepted students. If you have not already toured the campus, or are unsure if this is where your student wants to spend the next four years, then this is a great opportunity to see the school. Many accepted student tours fall within the Spring Break dates. This is great if you have not planned a Spring Break trip with your family. But it’s also tough if you now need to schedule last minute flights to visit schools.

In our case we can schedule a road trip and head up the coast to visit several California schools. Luckily we already did the East coast trip and don’t need to see those schools right now. I have heard from many parents that they did not do previous visits to colleges, but were saving the visits for the schools their student was accepted to. That’s a great way to do it and hopefully those families had kept Spring Break open for just that purpose.

It’s interesting to go from fantasizing about which school your student thinks they want to go through to what school they will end up in. A year ago my daughter found the small New England schools to be appealing and was convinced she did not want to stay in California. Now that she has been accepted to several California schools and several New England schools, she is thinking being closer to home might not be so bad.

At the moment I’m likening this experience to buying a new car. You get excited by the shiny brochures. You walk into the dealer and love the new car look and smell, but then you test drive a couple and discover the car you fell in love with at first isn’t the perfect match for you. Then you see the ticket price and begin to think more practically. You might not drive a shiny red convertible off the lot, but you will end up in the car that’s the right fit for you and your family. In the end it’s the same with college. After a lot of looking and practical thinking, your student will end up in the school that’s the right fit for them.

How to be Supportive of your Child’s College Decisions

Okay, so she has her heart set on some impossibly selective college in the middle of nowhere in the woods of Maine. And it’s very expensive.

Should we even be supportive? Or should we be the responsible adults in the room and steer her elsewhere?

Location, ranking and finances are near the top of factors that will help us decide on the right college for our daughter. But what she wants remains at the top. So we don’t say no, but she sees us wince.

Sydney has applied to a couple of schools in Maine. We live in Los Angeles. The Maine schools aren’t near large airports so traveling to and from will be tough. But she really wanted to apply to these schools, so we supported that.

She is not keen on going to school in California, but she applied to several UC and CalState schools. Those schools will be significantly more affordable and obviously closer. Once she sees where she is accepted, the reality of travel will set in. Does she like the idea of coming home for a long weekend, or does being snowed in during a Maine winter sound more appealing?

Ranking is something she thinks about too. A lower ranked school may give her a lot of Merit money. Is it best to have your college paid for because you are in demand academically? Or is it better to go to a higher ranked college and pay more?

We certainly don’t want to make money a priority for her education, but it is a reality. My worry is that she’d fall in love with a school, apply, get in and then we couldn’t afford to send her.

When Sydney started looking at schools, we were careful to run our finances through the Net Price Calculator of each school to get an idea of what aid she might receive. One liberal arts college that she liked was rumored to be stingy with money and the Net Price Calculator confirmed that. In the end, Sydney took that one off her list and didn’t apply.

These hard questions will be answered soon when she receives her acceptance letters. We have tried to guide her this far and help her narrow her choices. She knows the financial aid will be a factor. But as a family, we feel all the schools will be manageable in one way or another. This morning my husband said it’s just hitting him that she actually might be going to college far away. Up until now, it’s been about selecting schools that seemed like good fits and hustling to get the applications in.

Part of me wants her to college nearby. But I know I didn’t want that when I was her age. We’ll support her decisions and hope she’ll be lucky and have a lot of choices.

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