The levels of cortisol are at an all-time high for the Berkeley High School (BHS) class of 2020. Every year, students feel their hearts palpitate as college admission decisions begin to come out. After all of the years of hard work, struggle, and strife, it is incredibly scary — and comforting — to know that your fate for the next four years is about to be revealed to you. It is obvious that a variety of the factors that colleges consider for admission benefit those who have privilege: SAT scores, extracurricular activities, etc., but privilege also factors into the application process itself.
While most students who apply to colleges apply under Regular Decision, an admission plan in which students apply to a multitude of schools and find out in March or April, some opt to apply to a school under a plan involving a bit more commitment. Early Decision (ED) is a binding admission plan where students apply to schools around early November and hear back in December. The terms of ED are that if you are accepted, you must attend that school and withdraw your application from all others. The only caveat is that you may withdraw your application for financial reasons. While this does require commitment, it opens up a variety of benefits.
The most common reason to apply ED is that you have a higher chance of admission due to your demonstrated interest. If there’s a school that you know is the one for you, it makes sense to commit and have a higher chance of getting in. Additionally, it’s extremely helpful to hear from colleges so early. If you get in, you can pretty much relax for the rest of your senior year. If you don’t, you at least get a reality check that can help you with your applications to other schools. While all of this is great, it would be wrong not to acknowledge how deeply this system feeds into the already flawed college admissions process.
The ability to apply ED is almost impossible for students with lower socioeconomic statuses. College is incredibly expensive, and due to the binding nature of Early Decision, many students tend not to apply because of the lack of assurance that the college will meet their financial needs. While it is possible for students to pull out of an ED agreement if the aid provided isn’t enough for their family, the school decides whether or not they release you from the agreement based on the financial information you gave them, causing a ton of unnecessary stress and hassle.
Students who apply ED also waive the ability to compare financial aid offers, rendering them unable to see what college would be most financially suitable for them and their families.
Additionally, in order to decide to apply somewhere ED, it is basically necessary to visit schools to gain a feel for which one is truly right for you. These visits cost money and further limit economically disadvantaged students from receiving the benefits of applying to a school Early Decision. Above all, the schools that offer ED tend to be private schools, which means that students who could only afford to pay the price of an in-state education are completely excluded from it.
According to The Daily Pennsylvanian, the University of Pennsylvania admitted around 53 percent of their incoming class through the ED program, reflecting the overall trend of colleges filling up their classes with ED applicants. It makes sense for colleges to do this because not only do they know that the students they admit will attend, but they can assume that they will have the money to pay for their tuition. It raises questions about the reasons top colleges with multi-billion dollar endowments are springing to get money, brushing past kids who are just as deserving, albeit less economically advantaged.
While getting into your dream school through ED can be exciting, it is important for students to realize the privilege of applying through those programs. That way, they can make sure to stay humble for the sake of the students who weren’t able to commit to that kind of school. On the other hand, to ensure that they leave space and opportunities open for applicants of all kinds, colleges should also be mindful of the implications of offering ED programs.