Early Decision: Is It Right For You?

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Over the last few days I have been answering a ton of questions on the Hopkins Forums, in my own email account, and primarily through our main Admissions email account (gotojhu@jhu.edu). One of the most commonly asked questions this time of year is about whether or not one should apply Early Decision. Some ask about their chances for admissions if they apply ED (aaarrrggghhh), others ask whether there is an admissions or Financial Aid advantage to applying ED (understandable question), and others just want us to make the decision for them (sorry can't really help there). With just a few days until the November 1 Early Decision deadline, I thought I'd provide some thoughts on this whole ED thing.

First, I refer you all to a blog entry I wrote three years ago that still holds up today: To ED or Not To ED … I spent a lot of time composing that message and three years later I still share the same information with students asking about Early Decision at Hopkins. An excerpt:

Written November 2006
… Though that part of the staff meeting discussion may seem to be the most interesting, it is what we discussed afterward that really intrigued me and is the motivation behind this post. Collectively, the counseling team looked at how we speak with prospective students about our Early Decision program and specifically how we answer these two questions: (1) who should apply Early Decision? and (2) is there an advantage / benefit to applying ED to Hopkins? I took a lot of notes from what my colleagues and I discussed, and especially listened intently to the guidance that my boss, Director of Admissions John Latting, provided. So let's share some of that info…

Who Should Apply Early Decision?

Generally, when asked this question we answer, "If Hopkins is your definitive first choice and you are ready to make that commitment, then ED is definitely for you." This is a solid answer and is typically followed by a discussion that ED is truly for those students who are clear about their "love" of Hopkins and their desire to complete the process earlier if admitted. ED is for those students who just know — those who dropped a pretty penny in the bookstore on Hopkins paraphernalia — those who have the Hopkins web site as a favorite — those who get angry when people forget the "S" in Johns. This is the right answer, but in all actuality it is not that simple.

To really answer the question about who should apply ED, you need to address both the PRACTICAL reasons to apply and the "supposed" TACTICAL reasons to apply. The practical reasons fall under the umbrella of what I mentioned above — Hopkins is my clear first choice, I have done my research, and I want to apply ED. We all agree that this is the right way to make the decision.

It is the supposed TACTICAL reasons swaying a student's decision to apply ED that concerns us. By tactical, I mean someone whose main reason for applying ED is a focus on the "numbers" and the assumption that it is easier to get in ED. This focus on the "competitive advantage" and the tactics of "winning the game" of highly selective admissions is truly not the right way to approach the decision to apply ED. (Read below for more on this idea of "competitive advantage.")

ED should not be a strategic tool — it should be about FIT. So back to the initial question, who should apply ED? Those who know for practical reasons (FIT!!! that Hopkins is their absolute first choice. Who should not apply ED? Well, those who are not sure Hopkins is that perfect fit, but think ED is the best way to "get in."

Is There a Competitive Advantage / Benefit to Applying ED?

The discussion on the tactical side of applying ED to Hopkins leads to this less frequently asked question, but an important one to ask. And also, it is the harder one to provide a definitive answer to, but I will give it a try.

When asked the question about a competitive advantage to applying ED to Hopkins, most counselors including myself do not provide a direct answer. The reason for this, is that a direct answer without an explanation leads to assumptions, and often will sway a person to thinking more about tactical reasons than practical ones.

The direct answer is YES, there is an advantage / benefit to applying early decision to Hopkins. As you can see I did not use the word "competitive" to describe the advantage, and that is where the explanation must follow.

There is clearly a benefit to applying ED, and that benefit is the fact that an ED application proceeds through the review process with a more careful evaluation. Why is this? Well simple numbers — 1000+ applications read in a one month period of time versus 13000+ applications reviewed in less than 4 months of time. ED applications are read by the staff without a sense of pressure, without the time crunch of making sure to get all the reads done in time. We can spend more time on these files, and since the ED applicants are signing a contract of their commitment, there is a strong sense that they deserve a careful evaluation. (Please, RD applicants, do not read this as the staff will not read your applications carefully — just understand the time frame and the numbers.)

Another of the benefits when reviewing ED applicants, is that the counselor knows in almost every situation that the student applying is clearly interested in attending Hopkins. The concept of interest is pertinent in the review process, because we want to enroll students who are eager to experience Hopkins. ED students bring an enthusiasm to the University, and tend to embrace all aspects of being a Bluejay. Though sincere interest is not a determining factor of our decisions, it definitely helps in the holistic approach we take in our reads. And yes, the holistic approach to the evaluation is as inherent in our reads for ED applicants as it will be for RD applicants.

The important final point about this discussion of advantage and benefit is to state clearly that the advantage is not an academic / competitive one. It is not "EASIER" to get into Hopkins ED — we do not lower our standards for ED students. With all our reads, whether ED or RD, we do not work with a set profile, a set grid, a set percentage of who we must take. The approach we take in evaluating a candidate in academic terms is the same no matter if the student applies ED or RD. We benefit from the fact that our ED applicant pool is in academic terms, quite similar to our RD pool.

Second, I refer you to one of the best sources of information regarding Early Decision questions – the Hopkins Forums. Specifically, to the Early Decision Questions discussion thread, which has 8 pages of archived questions and answers. And as always, if you have questions, post them there.

Finally, don't forget to check out our Early Decision FAQs page on the main Admission site with a lot of helpful official answers.

Good luck to those applying Early Decision … and enjoying completing those applications over the weekend.

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