Case Study: Applying to William and Mary College Early Decision

It’s still summer, but I’ve already gotten my first question about early decision.

I thought I’d share the question posed by a mom, lets call her Susanna, whose daughter wants to apply early decision to William and Mary College in Williamsburg, VA.

If you don’t know what ED is, here is the definition of early decision.

This is the mom’s email message:

My daughter is looking at applying to a college early decision.  William and Mary is the school and we are not residents of the state of Virginia.  The school is a state university and as an-out-of-state applicant, the likelihood of receiving merit scholarships is very small. Our EFC is very high based upon doing a trial run of the FAFSA.

The advantage of early decision for her is a higher likelihood of admittance. But what is the down side? What are the pros and cons of doing this?  On the early decision application, it appears as if the parents are required to sign, and the student is then committed to attending that school if accepted.

We are quite certain we can not pay the steep costs – $39,000 out-of-state tuition/room/board, plus travel costs, without some merit scholarships to help, as might be the case with various private liberal arts colleges.  But, if we sign the early decision application, are we committed?

My Early Decision Response

Here is my initial response to Susanna:

After reading about your circumstances, I would not recommend applying early decision to William and Mary. You should only apply early decision if your child plans to attend regardless of any money she might receive from the school. That sure doesn’t appear to be the case with your family.

Your daughter would be expected to attend, but the school would have to release that commitment if you show financial hardship. As a practical matter, no school can force you to attend.

In a subsequent email, Susanna asked if her daughter might be eligible for a merit scholarship from William & Mary. As I’ve mentioned on my blog before, many state universities will cut the price for top out-of-state students. She was wondering how her daughter might get such a discount.

To answer her question, I took a look at William and Mary’s Common Data Set. After checking the Common Data Set, I could see that the state school provides very few grants to affluent families and the amount – $6,246 – would be negligible for an out-of-state kid. I couldn’t tell if out-of-state students are even eligible for this.

Bottom Line:

There is absolutely no reason for this teenager to apply to William and Mary.

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

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