High School 2 College

February 7, 2011

Scary News for High School Juniors (and even sophomores!)

It’s baaaack!

Many of us who follow college admission trends thought that early decision and early action programs were going away.  Harvard did away with early decision a few years ago, calling it a rich kid’s game.  A few colleges followed Harvard’s lead, and all the magazine and newspaper writers published articles cheering the demise of early decision programs.

For those who are just starting the college admission process, there are a few terms you must know:

  • early admission – technically, this means that the college will take you before you’ve even finished high school. Some schools have a program whereby you can go to college a year early and finish up any mandatory high school classes while you attend college. Unfortunately, many articles and blogs confuse “early admissions” with programs that give you an early decision about admissions.
  • early decision – if a school has this program, you apply to that one school early (the deadlines are often before Thanksgiving), and the school will let you know early (often before Christmas) whether you got in.  Under early decision, you are committing to attend this school if you get in.  You agree to withdraw any and all other applications if you get in.  That’s why it’s known as a rich kid’s game – you have to commit without knowing what scholarships or financial aid packages other schools might have offered.
  • early action – if a school has this program, you apply to this school and any other school with an early action program early (often before Thanksgiving).  They’ll let you know early whether you got in (often before Christmas), but you have until May 1st, the universal deadline, to let these schools know if you are going to enroll.

Many people (not me, of course) predicted the eventual end of the early decision program.  The truth is that both early action and early decision are more popular than ever.  Articles, like this from Inside Higher Ed and this one from US News and World Report, confirm that more kids are applying early than ever before.

So why is this scary news for high school juniors (and even for savvy sophomores)?

Much of your college admission work must get done in your junior year if you want to get into the colleges of your choice. (Notice I didn’t say “the best colleges” — what’s best for your friend isn’t necessarily what’s best for you.)

Because you’ll need to apply to colleges by October of senior year, you’ll need to know which schools you’ll be applying to by this summer.

Because you’ll need to know which schools you’ll be applying to by this summer, you’ll need to visit schools by this spring.

Because you’ll need to visit schools this spring, you need to know which schools interest you and group them by geographic area so you can see several schools on each road trip.  So you’ll need to have your list of schools – at least a preliminary list – NOW.  If you follow my advice, you’ll be applying to a minimum of eight colleges and probably more like ten to twelve schools.

Yes, admission are once again up all over.  More kids are applying to schools, and each student is applying to more schools than ever before.  (Read this Inside Higher Ed article.) You might not like the trend, but it won’t help you ignore it.

Don’t wait for your guidance counselor to call you in.  Don’t wait for your friends to tell you which schools they saw and liked.  Don’t wait for your English teacher senior year to tell you to write a resume.

You need to get started right now. (What were you doing on all those snow days, anyway?)

This week, you should go to PrincetonReview.com and complete their Counselor-o-Matic program, the best free college selection program available.  It’s not easy to find, but it’s worth it.  Go to www.princetonreview.com. Under the “college” tab, go to “best fit school search.”  That will bring up Counselor-o-Matic.  Complete the survey as thoroughly as you can.  You’ll get a list of good match schools, reach schools, and safety schools.  That initial list shows you colleges that paid to be there.  BUT if you click on “view all,” you’ll get an extensive list of schools that fit your criteria.  Click on any school to see more information about that school, often including commentary by students and a link to a video.

I’ve recently found another site which looks promising for building a list of colleges to consider.  Try cappex.com and let me know what you think.  And of course, there’s Naviance.  It’s limited, but you’ll most likely need to complete their profile at some point anyway, so you might as well check it out now.

You’ll need an initial list of 30 or so schools to check out.  Go to their websites.  Tell them you want more information.  Look at the schools’ videos (they’re there, but they’re often hiding).  You will find several that aren’t as good a fit for you as they seemed.  Good!  It’s as important to know what you don’t like as what you do like.

Visit a few schools, go to their open houses.  Become familiar with names of schools you’d like to know more about so that when you go to the spring college fairs, you won’t be standing in the middle of the room staring and frozen like a deer caught in headlights.

Whatever you do, do something now.  Start on the computer, continue with road trips and open houses and visits, get interviews where you can.

The more you do now, the less frantic and overwhelming fall of senior year will be.  If you don’t believe me, ask any senior!

Wendy Segal


  1. Wendy,
    this is freaking me out…did you see the documentary “The Race to Nowhere”? It discusses all the pressure we put on kids and how early the focus begins on college. I just dont get the whole process. the schools expect all the kids to be leaders. Who, then are the followers?


    Comment by Michele Fox — February 10, 2011 @ 8:54 pm | Reply

    • I haven’t seen that documentary, but I’ve heard of it. I do my best to help kids keep it all in perspective. I tell them that the SATs don’t determine whether you will get a job you like and feel proud of, they don’t determine whether you will find a partner to share your life with, they don’t determine whether you have healthy children. All those things matter, but not your SATs. But given that the schools want to see scores, let’s give them the best scores you, my student, are able to give them with a bit of help. I do think it’s a bit crazy – but given that kids and parents are going to pay for someone to help them through it all, I think I can do that and keep everyone sane at the same time.


      Comment by highschool2college — February 11, 2011 @ 1:19 am | Reply

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