Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Early Bird Gets the Worm . . . But Should it Apply ED II?

It’s mid October, and chances are you or someone you know is in the throes of college applications. To clarify questions you might have about early options, particularly Early Decision II (ED II), I am providing some guidance. Early birds, take note!

What exactly is ED II, and how does it differ from other early options?
Early Decision II is an early application option initiated by some colleges over the last ten years. As opposed to Early Action, which is almost always non-binding, Early Decision II is a binding option, meaning students must attend the college if accepted under ED II. The difference between Early Decision I and Early Decision II is timing. This year, most colleges offering both options ask ED I students to apply by November 15, 2011, and they render a decision in mid-December. The deadline for ED II, on the other hand, is on or about January 1, 2012. Students have a decision in late January or early February at the latest.

Note that the application deadline for ED II is generally the same as Regular Decision. So what is the difference? Under ED II, students will have a decision about two months earlier than Regular Decision applicants (just as colleges will have deposits that much earlier). The college is happy to fill its next class with candidates who want to be on that particular campus.

There are some colleges that offer both Early Decision and Early Action, creating some very nice flexibility for students who aren’t sure of their preferences and financial aid options. At Bennington, for example, a student can opt for ED I, ED II or Early Action. Early Action candidates need to apply by December 1, 2011, and they hear back from Bennington by February 1, 2012.

Why would a student apply ED II to a first-choice college rather than ED I?
Some students – and their parents and counselors – may be concerned that a disappointing junior year transcript may have an unfavorable impact on a student’s candidacy. ED II allows a student to get some better grades and activities as well some late-year standardized testing. (For example, there is a December 3, 2011, SAT administration and a December 10, 2011, ACT.)

Is it ever a strategic risk to apply ED II?
Yes, that can definitely be the case. Transcripts for ED I are current through the end of the junior year. However, ED II candidates must submit first quarter senior year grades. So a student off to a rocky start in the senior year might look better as an ED I rather than an ED II candidate.

Can students apply both Early Action and Early Decision?
Usually, the answer is yes, but students should check the policy in each college to be certain. Also, a few colleges, notably Yale, Harvard and Princeton, have moved to an option known as single-choice early action. This non-binding policy forbids candidates from applying to any sort of early program at another private college, yet they may be able to apply to another college's rolling program. Here’s how Yale explains its option:

• You may apply to any college's non-binding rolling admission program.
• You may apply to any public institution in your home state at any time provided that admission is non-binding.
• You may apply to another college’s Early Decision II program, but only if the notification of admission occurs after January 1. If you are admitted through another college’s Early Decision II binding program, you must withdraw your application from Yale.
• You may apply to any institution outside of the United States at any time.
(Yale website)

Are there any circumstances under which a student is released from this binding agreement?
The answer is yes – for financial aid reasons. As NYU explains, “Students will only be released from the Early Decision agreement if they believe their estimated financial aid package does not enable them to attend. Students must be aware that applying Early Decision will not enable them to compare financial aid packages from other universities. If comparing financial aid packages will be necessary for a student, the student should apply under our Regular Decision program.” (NYU website)

Early candidates are generally treated the same as regular candidates for purposes of awarding financial aid. Admissions are considered by admissions departments, with aid decided by a separate office and using the same required forms and methodologies. Colleges notify accepted candidates of a preliminary financial aid package on or around the same time they are admitted under an early plan provided the students have submitted the required forms in a timely manner. A student needs to agree to the college's financial package when he or she accepts an ED I or ED II offer.

What if a student really loves his or her ED I school and gets deferred? Should that student then apply ED II to his second-choice school or risk going back in the regular pool in hopes of getting into that first-choice college?
This is the question colleges don’t dare answer on their websites! The fact is that colleges admit a larger percent of candidates applying ED I and ED II rather than Regular Decision. When students are deferred after applying early to an elite college, they are often denied admission in the regular round. So using ED II as an alternative admissions strategy with a second-choice college may be appealing. Yet it is a decision the student has to make with his or her family and counselor: the people who know that student best. It is a very emotional decision and not one to take lightly.

What else do I need to know?
Some colleges automatically consider candidates who do not receive a favorable early decision in the regular pool, but others, such as Tufts, do not. Students must check each college’s rules on this matter. A student may not apply ED I or ED II to more than one college.

By the way, a student must withdraw any applications to other colleges once admitted under an ED plan. Also, colleges can share the names of those admitted with other institutions.

Questions? Contact me at I have been awarded Unigo Expert status this fall, including Top Expert in many categories!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Answering Questions About the College Interview

Question: What’s one of the most valuable experiences of the college admissions process?

Answer: The interview, of course!

As if the college application season isn't full of enough uncertainty, the prospect of first interviews is enough to unnerve many a high school senior. These days, college interviews can happen in many places, a result of the sheer volume of applications facing admissions officers. Depending on the colleges your student selects, he or she may be interviewed by an admissions officer on the college campus, a rep in a nearby coffee shop, or an alumnus in a conference room. Some colleges are even using student volunteers or interns to conduct interviews.

No matter who is interviewing your son or daughter, certain rules apply, starting with what to wear. I advise candidates to go with a smooth, preppy look that’s sure to work in any venue: for guys, a polo and khakis, and for gals, a nice shirt and conservative skirt or slacks. The student should know the basics starting with a firm handshake and eye contact. But he or she should also practice with a parent, friend, counselor, webcam or mirror.

Certain classic interview questions are a great place to start. (What are your strengths and weaknesses? Describe a challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it. What is your favorite book? What subjects do you do best at in school?) Every interviewer is different; some use set questions, while others go with the flow. Sometimes the best interviews are those where the applicant and interviewer find common ground, and that can really put the candidate at ease. Regardless of the interview dynamics, however, the student has to be careful with his or her opinions and meanderings. It is never a good idea to offend the interviewer.

Interviewers are always impressed when the student comes armed with a few good questions. Make sure your son or daughter does the same. The questions can be on anything from a tour guide’s comment to the interviewer’s own college experiences. The student shouldn’t hesitate to take out previously written questions or jot down notes. (I find that very impressive.) He or she should bring a copy of a resume (“brag sheet”) which will help the interviewer write up a report. Another professional touch is asking for the interviewer’s business card at the conclusion of the interview. Thanking the interviewer goes without saying.

The interview rarely makes or breaks the candidacy. There are just too many factors that make up an applicant’s profile, starting with the transcript and difficulty of courses. But believe me, if an interviewer sees a student who doesn’t seem to know about the school or indicates a preference for another college, it could cause some serious damage. Would you be impressed with an interview candidate who doesn’t seem well versed on your company's products and services or speaks glowingly of your competitor?

In my 20+ years as a Brown Alumni Schools Committee interviewer, I’ve seen it all. One student got into a car accident on his way to the interview. Another came across the room, sat down on the floor, and looked right up at me before she answered a question. I’ve had students bring paintings, sketches and recordings, all in the hopes of furthering their cause. Your student has to understand that there isn’t always a short-term gain from doing well in an interview and that not all interviews will go smoothly. But the ability to interview well is a skill your student will use forever. That is something to be pleased about.