Better late than never

Sept. 30, 2006, midnight | By Jessica Cutler | 17 years, 7 months ago

It's about time early applications were stopped

Congratulations to Harvard and Princeton for finally recognizing the flaws of early notification applications.

Early action and early decision were created as a convenience to both students and colleges. But all too soon, early applications became the standard, rather than a special benefit for students with a clear top choice school. Students reluctant to choose a single college at the beginning of senior year, whether they were uncertain of their future plans or had financial reasons, nonetheless began to hear the same message from parents, counselors and schools: "If you don't apply early, you probably won't get in."

For the majority of students, the fear of rejection from even a slightly competitive college is justified. Even an intelligent student boasting great grades, test scores and extracurricular activities faces a large degree of uncertainty when applying to a top university. These students are made to feel that by rushing to complete their applications early, they are greatly improving their chances. In reality, they are doing themselves far more harm than good.

Senior year is a crucial part of development – teens are more independent than ever, trusted with a great deal of freedom in their schedules, and engaged in all sorts of activities including sports and part time jobs. There is so much potential for personal growth in 12th grade that even one or two months missed because of the need to meet an early deadline is damaging to an applicant. Students become so focused on finishing everything by November that they hardly have time to finish their homework, let alone have fun in their last year of high school. They miss opportunities to engage with their senior year teachers, because impressing teachers from junior year is more important for those early recommendations. They lose out on the chance to bring up their GPAs with grades from senior classes because they spend time drafting essays rather than studying. They spend so much time pushing themselves to get everything done before the deadline that they forget to enjoy the year.

And for what? Early notification may save a student from a few months of anxiety over the winter as he wonders where he has been accepted. But it hardly relieves him of any work – with most regular applications due by early January, the typical student will already have completed most of his second choice or "safety" applications before he even finds out the result of his earlier effort. Early decision applications, while they usually make up a smaller pool than the regular decisions, also tend to represent more competitive candidates. Early action applications are typically also at a higher level than many regular applications, but this type of decision does not even have the advantage of a higher acceptance rate. The opportunity to express interest in a college and save a few months of anticipation is just not worth such a stressful year.

So, Harvard and Princeton, thank you. Thank you for realizing we are still developing adolescents and can only handle so much work at once. Thank you for giving us the time we need to figure out who we are and express it fully in our applications. Thank you for allowing us a little time to breathe and enjoy this year. And thank you for encouraging other schools to see the same things you have.

Jessica Cutler. Jessica Cutler is an energetic girl practicing for her intended career as a neuropsychiatrist on her unsuspecting classmates. She enjoys tennis, crosswords, Panera and exploring the Metro system. Also, she's developed a recent affinity for betta fish, and is the proud owner of Robert L. … More »

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