Planning ahead

Applying early could be key to securing the college of your choice

Applying early could be key to securing the college of your choice

September 30, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

When it comes to applying to college, authorities on the subject say earlier is usually better.

Students who apply shortly after the beginning of their senior year often have improved odds of being accepted to the school of their choice, said Tri-State area high school guidance counselors and college admissions officials.

They also have the luxury of waiting until May 1 to decide which school to attend.

There's one caveat, however.

Students who apply through what are known as "early decision" or "early action" programs may find themselves locked in to that particular school.

Mostly offered at elite private schools, the early decision process is geared toward top-ranked students who possess a strong conviction for a particular school, said Karl Wolf, director of admissions at Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va.


Shepherd doesn't offer an early decision process because it does not allow students to change their minds, he said.

"We don't feel it's right for a 15- or 16-year-old to make that kind of decision," he said.

With early decision, students have to commit to a school even before they know what kind of financial aid will be available, the counselors and admissions officials said.

Shepherd has a modified "early action" process for honors students, but once accepted into the program a student can still decline to enroll, he said.

The advantage for those students is first chance at the school's major scholarships, he said.

Penn State doesn't have a type of early admission process, said Shawn Wiley, admissions officer at the university's Mont Alto, Pa., campus.

"We want to give students flexibility," he said.

If a student chooses early admission, they may be forced to turn down another school offering a more lucrative financial aid package, he said.

Wiley recommends that seniors interested in Penn State apply by Nov. 30 to have the best chance of getting the campus and major of their choice.

A handful of high school seniors at Martinsburg (W.Va.) High School have already submitted their college applications, said Guidance Counselor Les Smith.

"These are the aggressive overachievers," he said.

Budd Moore, a guidance counselor at South Hagerstown High School, said he encourages students to apply as early as possible, but he doesn't push them to apply through the early decision process.

"It's like putting all your eggs in one basket," he said.

Generally, two or three students a year will apply early decision because they have had a long-standing interest in that school. Sometimes, they'll have a connection to the school such as a parent who is an alumni.

It's never too early for seniors to apply to college through the regular admission process, Wolf said.

Shepherd mailed 9,000 applications to students in late August. That's about three times as many as the number of full-time students the college.

By mid-September, about 150 had already been returned, he said.

Shepherd takes about 30 days to review an application and make a decision.

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