Ivy League Early Decision: How to Choose Which College to Pick?
If you’re a rising senior this year, I’m sure Early Decision and your Ivy League college applications are already on your mind (hint: if not, they should be).
A lot of students have questions though around Early Decision and Early Action as a whole, including not knowing which school to pick, not knowing if ED really does make a difference, not knowing if they should go with their absolutely hardest school for ED, or a still hard, but not “the” hardest college so they can best leverage their chances.
I’m going to answer your questions. For the purpose of this article, we’re going to focus ONLY on Early Decision, and I will write a second article in the coming week about Early Action which is completely different. So, first of all, the “what” and “why” of college admissions and early decision, just so everyone’s on the same page:
The “What” — Early Decision is the opportunity you have as an applying high school senior to designate one of your college applications as your #1 “priority choice” so college admission offices can basically “flag” your application to the school, putting in a BETTER pile of students that also are saying: “this is my most important application, and if I get in to _____I will go.”
The “Why?” — From the school’s perspective, even the top Ivy League colleges, they want students who they KNOW are going to commit to their incoming class. This lets them better understand how to diversify their acceptance of regular admissions applicants once that time comes, as they will already have a solid foundation of students to compare them to. It works for you, AND it works for them. Home run!
But, does Early Decision really work? And, if yes, then how do you decide which college to choose?
First, let me start by saying Early Decision DOES work. It really does give you an advantage. How much of an advantage changes every year, and changes every class, but it is anywhere around, in my experience, from a 4% – 10% boost. “Well, that doesn’t sound like much!” you say. Hold your horses though, though this applies to all colleges, in terms of Ivy League college admissions, which is my own speciality, if it comes down to getting into Harvard or Princeton which is life-changing, a 10% boost in YOUR favor, versus the student who applied regular decision, is a boost you want to take.
Think of this way, if you were going to play a slot machine (I know, sorry, underage gambling, but this is just a metaphor) say you were going to play a slot machine, and there are two slot machines side by side. One pays out 10% more than the other one. Consistently. It’s been documented. Which machine are you going to play?
You change of getting in to an Ivy League college in particular, which are the schools most students use their Early Decision choice for — is 10% higher than if you didn’t make that choice. Take that opportunity.
But, How Do I Know Which Ivy League College to Choose?
Now, this is a harder question. and there are two different ways to make your choice, two different strategies, or ways of approaching the problem, which I will go through below, but no matter which way you choose, it’s all about risk management. In other words, you are trying to mitigate the risk of choosing one Ivy League college over another, so as to MAXIMIZE your chances, as there is no definitive answer and you are only looking for the best answer for YOU.
1. Pick the Hardest School
This means that if Harvard is on your list, pick Harvard. Some will argue that Princeton is more difficult to get into than Harvard but Harvard is Harvard and I disagree (I’m also a Harvard grad). So, this strategy entails the attitude of “JUST GOING FOR IT!”
This means that even if you think you might not be competitive at the most absolute highest levels, you have put together a strong college admissions application to the best of your ability, and you do have some interesting things in your background…and so, you’re just going to go for it, and throw caution to the wind, choose HARVARD as your early decision Ivy League school, and then wait to see what happens. *NOTE: I have absolutely, year after year, seen this strategy work.
2. Pick the Hardest School That You Think You Have the Best Chance of Getting Into!
This means that if certainly would LOVE to get into Harvard or Princeton, Stanford, or even MIT…you kind of know in your heart it’s not going to happen, and more so, “just throwing it out there” as in my above example, makes you too anxious and taking crazy risks just isn’t your personality, you’re more “keep it calm, keep things easy going” personality. You’re unlikely to bet it all, and wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if you did.
So, if this is you, choose the hardest school on your list that you actually think you “might” be able to get into — that means that though you would love to join the tip of the iceberg in terms of academia, you think “I actually would love to go to Columbia University” or “I know I’d fit in more if I could only get into Brown.” THAT’s when you use the second strategy here, then. Still extremely highly competitive and still Ivy League, but you pick a more “realistic” school.
Those are your two main strategies!
And if you’re reading this article and do not exactly fall into the “Ivy League College Admissions” competitive category, don’t worry, as the same two strategies above work for everybody else — it’s the choice between going for the gold and just throwing your hat in the ring, or staying on the calm middle road.
Great risk though sometimes has great reward!
I’m a former Harvard admissions interviewer and Harvard grad, and run the top-rated Ivy League College Admissions Firm Ivy League Essay in New York. Contact me today for a free consultation, and get into the school of your dreams! www.IvyCollegeEssay.com
Check out some of my other Ivy League College Admissions blog posts too for more college admissions tips and advice, such as: The Summer Before Your College Applications