Case Study: Applying Early Decision

Yesterday I shared an easy way to to obtain early decision statistics from individual colleges and universities. Here is the post:

Finding the Success Rate of Applying Early Decision

As I promised at the time, I want to delve into the specifics of a high school senior, I’m going to call her Sarah, who wants to apply early decision to The College of New Jersey. I’d love to hear whether you think Sarah should apply ED.

Sarah has a 3.7/3.8 unweighted GPA.  She’s a very hard worker, but she’s taken only honors classes and no AP courses except an AP literature class this fall. Her combined SAT scores are around 1900. The teenager, who wants to be a special-ed teacher, is madly in love with The College of New Jersey.

Part of the family dynamics is that the girl is a twin. Her brother, a late bloomer has an unweighted 3.4 GPA, but he continues to improve academically and he earned a great SAT score — 2100. Sarah has been the better student, but The College of New Jersey sent her brother an invitation to a reception for possible merit scholars and not her!

This snub might seem shocking unless you take a look at  TCNJ’s Common Data Set. In the section of the Common Data Set that states what admission factors are most important,  the school clearly states that while grades are “considered,” test scores of applicants are “very important.” The rigor of the high school record is also “very important.”

You can discover more about using the Common Data Set to learn about a school’s admission factors here:

Common Data Set 101

Applying Early Decision

Sarah wants to apply Early Decision, which should boost her changes of getting into this very selective public liberal arts college and she doesn’t want to consider any other schools.  If Sarah’s family had unlimited cash, I’d say go for it, but that’s not the case here. Here is an excerpt from the dad’s email:

We went along with this (Early Decision intention), but now I have lost my steady income as a psychologist and am piecing together consulting work…hence, we are concerned that even the modest full freight of TCNJ will be a lot.  I want her to consider other schools to see what kind of merit packages they might offer (even privates, where her scores and grades are above their admitted means)–but she won’t hear of it.  My wife is concerned about her emotional status if we push the issue…

Here’s my suggestion:

Because of the family’s tenuous finances, I’d tell Sarah she can’t apply early decision. If she got in through early decision, Sarah would be committed to attending the school regardless of whether the family received any financial aid or merit awards. In this case, it’s better to see what other colleges would offer too.

I’d recommend she apply to The College of New Jersey during the regular admission process and apply to other schools as well.

What do you think?

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes a college blog for and US News & World Report. Follow her on Twitter.

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  1. Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for your comment. I think your question will serve as an excellent set up for a blog post. I will focus on your question about early decision at Ivy League schools on my next post. Stay tuned!

    Lynn O’Shaughnessy
    The College Solution

    1. During a fall, 2013 Information Session at TCNJ, the admission officer mentioned recent stats for Early Decision versus Regular Decision. Last year, the ED acceptances were 35-40% while RD acceptances were 40-45%. The 5% difference seems small, considering the number of athletes who take advantage of ED to commit to college and their numbers in the acceptance percentages.

  2. Thanks John N. for your comment. I’m glad you agree with my advice to skip applying early decision. I agree with you that it makes sense for Sarah to apply to six or seven schools.

    Lynn O’Shaughnessy
    The College Solution

  3. Dear Lynn: Love all your work!! I have been waiting for this questions. My senior visited Brown and loved it. I did the computations for the Data Set for Brown (reg. adm @ 11% and ED @23%).We have similar issues as “Sarah” but different. My daughter will apply to other schools; attends IB program and has taken 7-8 AP exams with scores of 4 or more (ACT 30 and I forget SAT but well)Also, excellent theatre training the past 4 years. I want her to apply ED Brown and we cannot afford it. In Sarah’s situation, I think she should apply to other schools definitely. What do you do if the school accepts you for ED and the financial pkg. in the spring does not fit? HELP and THANK you.

  4. Absolutely correct advice. With two students going off to college, and with the family’s tenuous finances, financial aid packages are important than ever, which means that it is not a good idea to commit to one school via early decision. The students should be encouraged to broaden their horizons, apply to 6-7 schools each, including both publics and privates that would likely offer need-based and/or merit-based aid.