What If I Don’t Get in Early (Decision or Action)?

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September 25, 2017

What If I Don’t Get in Early (Decision or Action)?

At this time of year, my staff and I are immersed in our evaluation of over 6,700 Early Decision applications we received for the class of 2022 – a pool that grew by nearly 10% from last year, with notable increases across all geographic areas and demographic backgrounds and among students from first-generation college families to Penn legacies. This review process started after we evaluated over 1,800 QuestBridge applicants – high-achieving students from lower-income backgrounds. QuestBridge Match students will hear from schools weeks before Early Decision results are posted.

In the Early Decision process, we aim to respond to the strength and breadth of our applicants who have identified Penn as their first choice with an effort to preserve places in the class for the many qualified applications we anticipate receiving in Regular Decision. As such, Penn Admissions (and my colleagues at other institutions) faces a difficult task: negotiating an increasingly large and well-qualified pool of students with a fixed number of Early Decision places in the class of 2022. This is, in some ways, a self-imposed restriction, as the general opinion is that there is too much pressure on students to apply early, and Penn already admits a higher percentage of the enrolled class under Early Decision (over the last few years, between 50%-54% of the target class) than many peer institutions.  This is not a job we take lightly. We know and appreciate the significant time and thought that goes into any application decision made by students, parents, and college counselors.

So, what does this landscape of increased applications and finite places mean for students, particularly those who may be receiving Early Decision (or Early Action) notifications within the coming weeks?

First, all students should continue to work on their applications with later due dates, using these weeks before the end of the calendar year to finalize supplemental essays, prepare for interviews, and plan ahead for success in this process, regardless of the outcome of their Early applications.

Second, students should revisit the list of colleges where they have already applied or where they plan to apply, keeping the 5I’s and 4C’s in mind. For students: check in with yourself to make sure that you know why each school where you intend to apply is on your list. Are those reasons still relevant? If yes, think about how you might speak to those interests in an essay specific to that school or during an alumni interview. If not, you may think about revising your list if your interests have changed

Lastly, students should remain excited about the schools – all the schools – on their college list, those where they have already applied and those where they may apply in the future. We know there are many wonderful institutions that might be a good fit, based on your criteria! Keeping an open mind provides opportunity and flexibility throughout this process.

For those who are interested, I invite you to tune in to my radio show (and call us at 1-844-WHARTON), The Process, on Monday, December 18th at 6:00 p.m. EST on SiriusXM Radio Channel 111, powered by the Wharton School. My co-host, Eileen Cunningham Feikens from The Dwight Englewood School, and I will provide context from the college counseling perspective about strategies post-Early applications for heading into subsequent application rounds, including Early Decision II and Regular Decision.

And finally, if you have applied Early Decision (or Action) and receive good news next month, congratulations. Take pride in the accomplishments that have led you to this point. If you don’t receive affirmative news (and the decision may also be a deferral), know that there will be other opportunities ahead. Take time to recharge, get some rest, and get ready to continue the process with confidence, knowing that authentic and honest applications, sent to a thoughtfully constructed list of schools, will yield positive results.

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