Oct 3, 2011

‘Early Action’ Isn’t Always As Simple As It Looks

It’s getting increasingly difficult to keep all the early decision (ED) and early action (EA) rules straight, particularly when a handful of colleges tinker with definitions and come up with narrow interpretations designed to suit particular admissions goals.

In general, binding ED programs require that applicants relinquish all rights to consider offers from other colleges in exchange for the possible privilege of being admitted early—typically before the first of the year. ED is the least flexible of the options because it locks you in.

Then there are the early action policies—restricted and not restricted. This is where things get tricky. Although both kinds of EA are non-binding—allowing applicants to choose from among all colleges to which they are admitted—restricted early action (REA) dictates which other early action programs are off limits to applicants.

For example, at Yale a student applying early must comply with Yale’s single-choice early action terms, which read as follows:

  • You may apply to any college’s non-binding rolling admission program [this is new this year].

  • You may apply to any public institution in your home state at any time provided that admission is non-binding.

  • You may apply to another college’s Early Decision II program, but only if the notification of admission occurs after January 1. If you are admitted through another college’s Early Decision II binding program, you must withdraw your application from Yale.

But Harvard puts it another way:

  • You may not apply simultaneously to Harvard’s Early Action program and another Early Decision Program. However, after you receive notification from Harvard’s Early Action program, you are free to apply to any institution under any plan, including binding programs such as Early Decision II.

  • You may apply to any college or university with a non-binding rolling admissions process.

  • You may apply [Early Action] to any public college/university.

Confused yet? If so, you’re not alone. Professionals in the field were equally surprised and confused by the subtleties in this year’s early action rules.

Harvard’s EA policy allows students to simultaneously apply early to any public institution. But at Yale, you may apply early only to public institutions within your home state. This is particularly nice for Virginia residents, who are free to apply under UVa’s new early action policy as well as Yale’s single-choice early action program.

Stanford and Princeton agree with Harvard. The Georgetown and Boston College restrictive early action policies only prohibit students from applying binding early decision at other schools. Other early application programs are fair game.

Under all policies but Yale’s, students may apply early to UVa or UNC or any other public college or university in the country.

“With our return to Early Action (which we had for many years before the three-year hiatus), we reinstated the policies that we had used before,” explained Harvard Dean William Fitzsimmons. “Given the fact that over 80% of college students attend public institutions, we have always wanted to offer students the flexibility of applying to public institutions throughout the nation, not simply the ones in their home states.”

Thankfully, the Common Application published a chart designed to get at some of the nuances of the various “restricted” early action policies colleges put in place this year.

The question remains, however, why such a chart should be necessary.

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