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College Process Tricks and Treats

It’s the time of year for Halloween tricks and treats. If your student is a senior or a junior, pay close attention. You don’t want to be fooled while you go down a dark path . . .

Early Decision or Regular Decision: A trick or a treat? Students whose families don’t need to wait and compare offers know the lure of Early Decision. Hopefully, ED applicants have great credentials and would do anything to attend that college. By mid-December, the entire process can be over. What a treat!

But sometimes, a student’s transcript isn’t as strong as it should be, and he or she may be better off waiting and applying Regular Decision. But there’s still some risk in that choice; if those grades don’t go up and competition is stiff, the outcome might not be positive. So the decision is . . . tricky!

Beware! Early Decision is binding. As U.S. News points out, consequences of breaking the deal vary depending on the college. In the article, we also learn that some elite schools share lists of those admitted ED just in case some hooligans dare apply to two or more schools Early.

Also, getting the results on Early Decision day (sometime in mid-December) can be particularly frightening for applicants. Most colleges accept, reject, or defer, but there are some colleges that do not defer, notably NYU. That’s for real; it’s not a trick.


A treat for some: Early Decision applicants at NYU are never deferred.

Acceptance Rates: A trick or a treat?

We hear it every year. Colleges’ acceptance rates are down again. As an article in’s Money pointed out this week, the stated rate applies neither to the Early pool nor to the Regular pool. The article uses Vanderbilt as an example. For last year’s entering freshmen, the acceptance rate posted was 12 percent. But 24 percent of Early applicants were admitted, and 8 percent of Regular applicants were accepted. The same with Duke. The overall rate was 11.8 percent, but the ED rate was 26.8 percent and the Regular 10.2 percent. Now that’s tricky!

Early Action and Rolling Admissions: A trick or a treat? In contrast to Early Decision, Early Action can be quite the treat; it comes with no strings attached. An applicant should still be wary of how the junior year might be judged, but we all take chances in late October. Rolling admissions help by giving us a “read” on an applicant’s chances; depending on the outcome, the college list may be adjusted (or not). A treat!

Taking a standardized test in the fall of senior year: A trick or a treat? This year, some students made a last-ditch effort for some credentials by trying a standardized test for the first time. That can be very tricky since the applicant has no experience with the test and likely won’t get the chance to repeat it. Contrast that with the student who took the test in the spring and is repeating it with some degree of familiarity. Now that can be a treat!

Warning: Applicants need to pay close attention to the college’s position on late testing.

Making a college list based on rankings: A trick or a treat? Parents: You’ve read the blog enough to know that relying on rankings is like going down a slippery slope. There are too many sources with differing methodologies. Some, like those posted by U.S. News, are developed based on “academic quality” along with other factors. Others are linked to earnings. According to a recent New York Times article, “How Much Graduates Earn Drives More College Rankings,” rankings that include job satisfaction work give a boost to liberal arts colleges. Tricky.

It all comes down to the applicant. The Times agrees: “In the end, of course, deciding which college to attend is intensely personal. No ranking can assess a student’s unique personality, goals, strengths and weaknesses and match those to the ‘right’ college.”

Taking a gap year: A trick or a treat? Those who’ve taken worthy gap years believe that their experience was more than a treat; it may have been a life-changer. Twenty years ago, Ron Lieber profiled individuals who were taking a gap year. Last week in The New York Times, he reported on the experiences of those same individuals. The results totally supported the gap year concept. Note: The individuals Lieber profiled did wonderful things for social causes. However, that is not the only activity a student can do. There is always work, sometimes volunteering and other times for pay.

Filling out the FAFSA: A trick or a treat? According to “5 Misconceptions About College Aid,” too many people assume that they won’t get grants. It takes about 25 minutes, so it could be well worth it. And it’s less tricky than ever to complete it.

The college process is, well, scary. We hope to shed some light and guide you through.


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