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I recently had a meeting with a friend of mine who works in college admissions counseling. He shared that it has never been more important to consider doing Early Admission to universities. I asked him to estimate just how significant a difference it might make, and he said that a student who has a 32 ACT, 4.0 GPA and good extracurricular activities applying to a school like Northwestern would have about a 50% chance of admission with Early Decision, but only a 10-20% chance of admission with regular decision.
Why do colleges like Early Decision? Here are two ideas:

1. It enables them to have students apply who do not need financial assistance. A student who would need to weigh competing financial aid offers from universities would not be able to limit herself to Early Decision.

2. It allows them to reject far more students in the regular application pool. Since they will have about half of their classes set early, colleges will be able to be more selective in the regular pool because they will not need to worry about filling up their class spots. More selectivity=higher rankings and more prestige.

What does this mean for you? If you are considering a top-tier school, consider applying early. Think very carefully, however, about which college to which you will apply. You need to consider how risky you are comfortable being. If you apply to a school like Harvard or Yale early and get rejected, then you may not have as solid a chance at schools like University of Chicago, Duke or Northwestern in the regular decision pool. It may be in your interest to apply early to the school where you have the most realistic chance of being admitted. Quite a bit to consider. I look forward to your comments and questions.