The transition from high school to college is an exciting one, with the promise of new experiences and a bright future. Your child is so excited, and especially when he or she finds out that the colleges will consider admitting them early. That's so great, they really want me!
Wait a minute, though, because early-admission programs can come with serious strings attached, especially ones that can affect your child's financial aid. So before he or she commits to a college on an early-admission basis, there are things you'll want to consider.
About 450 schools have early admission plans. The schools that have them tend to be highly selective. Early admission works this way: high school seniors apply to the college somewhere between October and November. They receive a decision somewhere between mid-December and mid-January. The advantages are that now they know they've gotten into college and don't have to worry about it. Also, they may be able to take college courses over the summer and get a head start. Your child has a better chance of getting into college with early admission as well. About 70% of students who apply under early admission are accepted, as opposed to about 55% who apply for regular admission.
There are two types of early admission, early decision and early action, and it's important to know which set of rules your child is applying under. She can only apply to one college under either early decision or early action, although she can apply to, as many schools are she wants through regular admissions programs.
With early decision, once your child is accepted he or she is obligated to attend that school and withdraw all applications to other colleges. She's also obliged to accept the financial aid package that's offered. This can be a big blow to college plans, because it means a financial aid package is awarded before the family has had a chance to file the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid.) There won't be any consideration given to your family's financial need. Your child might not get nearly enough aid to pay for college, although he or she has accept what's been offered; and your student won't be able to compare offers from other schools. You may end up paying for college out of your own pocket. Even worse, your student might end up not being able to go at all.
Another financial disadvantage of early decision is that things can change a lot during your child's senior year. Some colleges offer early decision to juniors, which leaves them committed to the college for almost two years. In a year or two, your family's financial situation might change, and what was an adequate aid package at first might end up not being nearly enough. However, your child is stuck with it.
Colleges like early decision, because it pushes up their enrollment figures. It also allows them to be cheap with financial aid. Colleges that offer early decision have been criticized a lot, because they appear to favor wealthy students over poorer ones. Colleges would much prefer that students pay on a cash basis.
Another early admissions option is early action. Early action admission can be a better financial option for your child. If your child is accepted under early action, he is under no obligation to attend the school, and can still apply to other schools and shop around for financial aid. You can also file the FAFSA, because your child won't have to commit to the school until May. Except for the application deadline, early action and regular admissions are the same. So with early action, your child can get the best financial aid package available, and won't risk not being able to finish college.
You have the right to appeal or as the school to re-evaluate your financial aid package when you apply regular admission. Some college financial planning companies, such as 123College.com, specialize in writing appeal letters for families to send to schools requesting additional financial aid. These companies will be unable to assist you in obtaining additional aid if you apply early action or early decision.
In general, it's best to avoid all types of early admission programs. Information about obligations, and especially about financial aid, can be confusing, and every school's policy is different. The only exceptions is if you are willing to marry a particular school, you do not believe your student will get accepted via regular admission, and if money is no object.