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How Applying Early Affects Students

A female student smiling while in a lecture hall with many other students.

As the number of applications to colleges across the country continues to rise, more and more students are opting to apply early to their top choice schools. Students hope that this tactic will help them stand out, and it often does increase their likelihood of admission.

However, as a recent article in the Washington Post points out, applying Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED) also often lengthens students’ admissions season. With deadlines starting in October or early November, and final decisions for regular decision and deferred applicants coming in March, many students will spend nearly their entire senior year worrying about where they will go to college. Such a long period of stress, coupled with the increased selectivity of many schools, may cause some students to experience physical symptoms like headaches, insomnia, or irritability.

Even with this repercussion of applying early, most people generally agree that the benefits outweigh the costs. For students who are accepted in these first rounds of the admissions process, the pressures of application season can disappear as early as the first week of December, letting them confidently approach the rest of the year. Furthermore, these early applicants—especially to ED programs—do often experience a significant advantage in the admissions process, which is especially valuable at the most elite schools. Therefore, despite the lengthening admissions season, the strategy behind applying early is an effective and important part of the process of pursuing that “dream” school.

To combat stress during admissions season, we suggest:

  1. Completing all early applications and regular applications by November 1. The earlier students complete their applications, the earlier they can focus on enjoying senior year. Obviously, there will still be the uncomfortable waiting game until acceptances are awarded, but stress is often alleviated when students know they have completed and submitted stellar applications.
  2. Filling senior year with interesting extracurriculars, classes, and social activities. Having fun and working hard can take away the pressure of waiting.
  3. Getting enough sleep and eating well. This is a given whenever students are feeling stressed, but it’s even more essential when a stressful period lasts several months.
  4. Applying to a sufficient number of safety and target schools that are a good fit. This helps students feel confident that they will get in somewhere that they like and that they know will provide the academic, social, and cultural atmosphere that they seek.

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