Senior year is a stressful time, and one of the defining features that makes it that way are college applications. From finances to one’s field of study, it’s a lot to figure out. Some colleges offer an alternative application option in order to give applicants that are more certain about their interest in a specific school an advantage over their peers. Namely, Early Decision (ED): an application window that is earlier than the standard one, and requires accepted students to attend that school if they are admitted. Therefore, applying ED demonstrates to the college that it is a student’s first choice.
Lucila De Anda Castaneda is a Berkeley High School (BHS) senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), and she is no stranger to the ED process. She applied ED to Brown University after confirming it as her first choice. “Its distinctive open curriculum greatly appealed to me, and I … loved the campus,” she said. “I decided to apply ED to demonstrate my strong interest and commitment to pursuing my undergraduate studies there.”
Unfortunately, the ED process wasn’t the easiest for her. “Both my parents immigrated to the US as adults, and the US college application process was something totally new to them,” De Anda described. “Because of the school closures and SAT cancellations, I feared I would not be able to get the support and guidance needed to complete the ED application by the November 1st deadline.”
Another student who struggled with the application process is Iris Lei, a senior in Academic Choice (AC). “I didn’t like the feeling of reducing my entire person into a few paragraphs,” Lei said of the essay-writing process. She applied ED to the University of San Francisco (USFCA) because of its direct admit nursing program, which guarantees undergraduates in the program a spot in the university’s nursing school later on.
Fernanda Padilla Colin, another senior in AC, also found writing her essays to be difficult. “You have to dig really deep into yourself,” she described. “I wrote about my immigration story. Returning to that every single day and just putting in the time and effort — it was a little bit challenging.”
Padilla Colin lamented the struggles of compiling financial information. “The CSS profile, FAFSA, that stuff — God, I hate it,” she said. “It’s so tedious. … Specifically for first [generation] students, it’s a really hard process, because we don’t really have anyone else to rely on within our family.”
Padilla Colin applied ED through the QuestBridge program, a non-profit that connects “students from low-income backgrounds with leading institutions of higher education,” according to the website. “I [applied through QuestBridge] because my parents absolutely could not pay for my education, and I wanted to go to a top tier school, so I decided that this would be the best way to approach that situation,” she explained.
QuestBridge has a unique Match Program in which students rank colleges according to their preference, and they’re matched with the college ranked highest on their list that wants the student to attend their school. In Padilla Colin’s case, she was matched with Rice University
Lei didn’t limit herself to one school either. In addition to USFCA, she also applied to five UC schools. “[I was] notified within 24 hours of clicking submit [on my UC application] that I’d gotten accepted to USFCA,” she recalled. Despite her previous frustration, the day was ultimately a happy one for her. “I had realized there was an update on my applicant portal during dinner that day and had almost choked when I saw the virtual confetti falling down on my phone’s screen,” she said.
De Anda had a similar experience, reporting that she was “thrilled” upon reading her acceptance letter. “It was a memorable moment of happiness and relief, after many doubts and stressful moments throughout the application process,” she said.
Of course, not everyone ends up going to their number one college. “Originally, my first choice was not Rice at all,” Padilla Colin said. “It was actually not really high on my list. [My first choice] was Yale … but Yale did not offer me as much financial aid as Rice did.”
However, Padilla Colin remained optimistic about her future experience in higher education. “I think, at the end of the day, everything happens for a reason. … I want to go into medicine, and [Rice is] right next to the medical center. … I’ve already started to meet people at my school and make friends. So it’s really exciting.”
For future college applicants considering applying ED, De Anda had wise words to offer. “Discuss applying ED with your counselor if there is a school that you find yourself specifically drawn to during your junior year. Also, I would recommend [starting] applications early, before the summer of your senior year,” she advised.
Padilla Colin stressed the importance of preparation, advising applicants to “spread out your work so that you’re not doing everything [in] one night.”
Lei reminded future applicants, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help! There are so many people out there who devote themselves to helping students through this application process, [so] reach out!”