THE BRIDGE TO COLLEGE
The Myth of the Early Admission Coupon
Every fall, high school seniors rush to submit college applications as “early” applicants, believing that filing by the first deadline gives them some advantage. The idea that early admission offers some sort of coupon to enhance one’s chances is misguided.
Let us begin by addressing the numbers. Statistics indicate that students who apply “early” are about three times more likely to receive an offer of admission than those who apply “regular.” Statistics also indicate that colleges accept early applicants with a lower average SAT or ACT score than that required of regular applicants. However, despite the numbers being statistically accurate, they are misleading.
Early and regular applicant pools are quite different, and their different populations lead to the different statistics. There are many distinctions between the pools, but just one will disclose the truth: athletes. By the time they submit their applications, recruited athletes have already sent their grades and test scores to the coaches and admissions representatives for evaluation. In fact, by the time a coach indicates that he or she will “support” the athlete’s candidacy, the student has already been pre-approved not only by the athletic department, but also by the admissions office. It is rare that a recruited athlete will not be offered admission.
Because coaches cannot wait until April to find out which athletes will choose their schools and their teams, recruited athletes must apply “early.” As a result, athletes often constitute 25 percent or more of an early applicant pool. Because this large portion of the early group is 90-100 percent likely to receive an offer of admission, the admissions selectivity number – which is a simple fraction – becomes larger and thus “easier.” When you also factor in that recruited athletes usually have lower test scores than more “academic” applicants, the perceived fact of an early coupon becomes pure fiction.
The truth is that colleges do not change their admissions rating scales for early and regular applicants. They use the same grading sheets for both pools. However, a few general observations can help you navigate the early-vs.-regular issue.
Start by recognizing that, with thousands of universities, there is no single perfect rule. Instead, a three-tiered perspective can help you create the best possible application strategy.
The most highly-selective colleges – such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford – utilize “single choice” early action. They limit their applicants to choosing one college for early admission, but if the student is selected by the college, the student is not bound to attend that school. In our experience, for these schools, there is no significant advantage to applying early as compared to regular.
The next tier of colleges utilizes single-choice early decision (ED). These schools also restrict students to one “early” application, but if the college makes an offer of admission, the student is bound to attend that college and must withdraw the regular-admission applications to all other schools. The ED colleges usually don’t have the allure of the “brand” of the first-tier schools, so they often receive a flood of applications from students who were not accepted “early” elsewhere. As a result, there is a slight advantage for some applicants to apply ED, especially those with more common racial, ethnic, or academic and activities profiles.
The third tier includes non-restrictive early action colleges, such as Tulane, SMU and the University of Miami. These schools do tend to prefer early applicants, because they are often used as “back-up” schools by strong candidates. They need to recruit students as soon as possible. We often see good candidates be wait-listed when they apply regular admission to this tier of school.
Remember, these are only general rules. For many applicants – particularly those who are not yet satisfied with their SAT or ACT score or who are still developing their resumes – waiting to file applications can be beneficial. When and how to file your college applications requires thoughtful strategy. If you have a true first-choice school, and your test scores and application essays are in good shape, do consider applying early.
The Unsporting Life
You can read all the sociology books and scholarly articles that you want, but one sure way to take our cultural temperature is to scroll through our WhatsApp chats with their religious photographs, jokes, political diatribes and affirmations italicized in front of waterfalls and rainbows. Emoji abuse is rampant. Car pool and dance team groups simmer with scheduling-induced hostility.
But during the past month, all chatter took a backseat to one event: the Olympics. Together, we stayed glued to the action, marveling at Michael Phelps, Simone Biles and Usain Bolt. Out of the corner of our eye, we crossed our fingers for the stalwart Dipa Karmakar and Sakshi Malik. And then suddenly, there was just one name on every chat: badminton player P.V. Sindhu. The whole country is rooting for Sindhu, my parents told me from India. All of a sudden, no one could get enough of her. We wondered: is it time for desi gold in Rio?
It wasn’t. P.V. Sindhu won a silver medal in badminton, but she won her nation’s heart. WhatsApp was on fire. “Times are changing … from buying gold/silver for the daughter to winning gold/silver by the daughter,” proclaimed one forward optimistically. Others invoked the irony that all the medalists were female, from a nation where girl babies are routinely abandoned. Still others detailed the honors coming Sindhu’s way — crores, flats and land. But there was one forwarded joke that echoed the world’s judgment: “‘First complete your homework and studies, then go and play.’ Just because of this one sentence, India has lost thousands of Olympic medals.”
Is studiousness the answer to our perceived athletic deficiency?
An article that appeared in The Atlantic after the London Olympics explains that the matter is more complex than prioritizing financial success or pursuing high status academic careers at the expense of athletic involvement. “If an American amateur gymnast spends a few years deemphasizing school so she can labor toward her dream of a gold medal and it doesn't work out, she still has a good shot at a middle class life,” writes Max Fisher in the publication’s Aug. 3, 2012 issue. “But if her Indian equivalent does the same, she may never recover from all those hours she didn't spend on education or job training, making a middle class life less likely for either her or her children.”
But what of us here in the U.S.? We can afford that risk, and we don’t have to worry about the corruption and lack of training facilities that have also been cited as causes of the stagnation of Indian athletics. However, when I googled Indian American athletes, just a handful of results pop up, and the old joke about how the Scripps Howard Spelling Bee is our major sporting event rings awkwardly true.
My family is certainly no advertisement for athletic prowess, my husband’s weekly volleyball game notwithstanding. When I had kids, I envisioned one of those cute soccer team pictures on my fridge, bought my preschool-age daughter pink shin guards and signed her up for her Montessori school’s soccer team. One look at the other kids stampeding around the field towards her, and she burst into tears and abruptly terminated her soccer career. A couple of years later, we tried tennis, but it soon became apparent that our time would be better spent elsewhere than for her to stand around daydreaming and gently swatting at a ball that rarely made it over the net.
Yet she, like many other kids who may not necessarily play, loves to watch. The rhythm of sports-watching life is the same for most households I know regardless of ethnicity — the march through football, basketball and baseball season, interspersed with occasional cricket excitement, golf tournaments and once in four years, the World Cup. It’s when it comes to pursuing sports seriously that we balk, and for the same reason there are so few of us in creative or entertainment careers. Our pragmatism compels us to weigh the very tiny percentage of people who make it as athletes or rock stars and tell our kids: Go to dental school and play basketball/write/make music in your spare time. Pour that competitive drive into academics — make our sacrifices worthwhile!
And maybe that’s OK too. It can be argued that a child who is passionate and truly gifted should be allowed to explore her passion, especially in a country where abundant resources exist for proper training and exposure. However, there’s nothing wrong with the parent who dispassionately measures the likelihood of that child succeeding and, if they think the odds are against them, steers them gently elsewhere. We live in a sports obsessed society, but winning at games doesn’t have to be everything. Success is defined in a myriad of ways here, and hey — every act needs an audience. Maybe not everyone needs to play. Maybe some of us one can find just as much satisfaction sitting back to watch a game, phone in hand for that running WhatsApp commentary.