Wednesday’s Parent: Choosing an admission program is like buying a mattress

Choosing an admission program is like buying a mattress. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Choosing an admission program is like buying a mattress. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

A college admission program has to fit a student comfortably like a customer finding the right mattress. In the end, both will be making their own bed and lying in it, even if one of them is in a dorm bunk bed. I was thinking of the similarities as I tried out a few in a local store.

There are lots of choices but the comfort and cost vary. A wrong decision can cause sleepless nights, a hefty blow to the pocketbook, and change the course of the next umpteen years. The pressure is on to make good choices.

My need for new sleeping arrangements coincides with the November deadline for college applications under early admission programs. That means the college-bound and their parents are under pressure, too. First they have to find out which admission programs colleges on their list offer. Second they have to decide which one offers the best chance of admission and suitable financial aid package.

The possibilities include Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA), Restricted Early Action (REA), other hybrid ED-EA, or not apply early at all and go with Regular Decision (RD). Those that can’t decide now may also submit when they are ready via Rolling Admission (RA).

Q  Who benefits most from each admission program? 

A  ED allows colleges to fill up their classes early with students with the strongest credentials and finances who declare a college as their one choice. EA demonstrates the students’ strong interest in a college while keeping the option to compare other offers of admission and financial aid. RD enables students to submit additional months of senior year accomplishments to supplement their application and compare other offers. Check the school’s rules for REA and other admission programs to determine which early or non-early admission program benefits you.

I don’t know whether a few minutes of lying down will be good enough for me to test whether or not I will get a solid eight hours (Ha!) of rest. Neither do most 17-year-olds know at the beginning of their senior year what their 18-year-old selves want as they near high school graduation. Whether it is a change of my body or the student’s heart or mind, doesn’t matter. We both have to make a decision based on our research now and what we want to achieve in the future. We will deal with the consequences of our decisions and move on.

To help me decide, I reread 7 Shakespearean steps to good decision-making. Students and parents can also reread College Application & Early Decision and College Admission Applications.

Read Suzanne’s post: EA and ED–Just Get It Over With (and other reasons) 


Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

The bonus is on the fourth Wednesday of each month when Suzanne and I will host Twitter chat #CampusChat at 9pm ET/6pm PT. We will feature an expert on a topic of interest for parents of the college-bound. 

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from to and vice versa.


READ more: Early admission applications sent, now 7 things to do 

*POCSmom’s DIY College Prep Insight: College Admission Applications

Cliché: When the going gets tough, the tough get going.    
POCS Reality: Colleges students can select an admission program to increase their chances for admission and financial aid.


If you thought forming a college list was a challenge, wait until you apply for admission. Colleges can offer several admission programs and which one students choose can affect both the chances for admission and the ability to maximize your financial aid.

Colleges select which admission programs to offer and the due date for each program’s application submission. Failure to meet deadlines can result in an automatic rejection even if the applicant was otherwise qualified for admission.

Here are the admission programs:

1.  Regular Decision is the most common admission program. Although deadlines vary, most colleges select a due by date in January-early February and notify students of admission/rejection by April 1st. Admitted students often have a month to decide where to attend and usually must notify the college by May 1st. Failure to meet notification deadlines can result in a withdrawal of the offer of admission.

 2.  Early Admission programs include Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA), and ED-EA hybrids. They enable students to apply early, usually in November, and receive the admission decision earlier, usually by January. Applying early is a strategy because it can impact both the likelihood of admission and the ability to maximize financial aid. Early applicants may lose their ability to inform the school of their further senior year accomplishments to enhance their application. They may also lose their negotiating power to ask for more financial aid. For example, under ED, students can’t compare financial aid offers because upon acceptance other applications must be withdrawn and applicants are bound to attend as long as minimum financial needs are met. Since the school knows it is the first choice college, there is no incentive to offer more. (Read more about early admission programs)

 3.  Rolling Admission programs allow students to submit applications almost year-round (from fall through summer at some schools) and be notified of the college’s decision within a few weeks of applying. To improve admission, financial aid, and housing chances, students are encouraged to apply early.

 POCSmom’s DIY College Prep Insight: Students should choose an admission program as carefully as they chose their college list to maximize their chances for admission and financial aid. Create a master calendar to include deadlines for each application. Apply sooner rather than later and before deadlines for all college admission applications.

*POCS: Parent Of a College Student

*POCSmom’s Insight: College Application & Early Decision

Cliché: Apply oneself.    
POCS Reality: There are different college application programs that impact chances for admission and financial aid, differently.          


How nice it would be to apply early, increase chances for admission, get accepted early, and have the whole college application process completed by January of the student’s senior year in high school. That’s the upside of many Early Decision programs. But what is the downside?

Early Decision (ED) is a binding admission program through which students apply early (often by November of the senior high school year) to only one school, their first choice college, and if accepted, agree to attend if the school offers adequate financial aid. Upon acceptance, any other applications, such as those submitted through regular or early action admission programs, must be withdrawn.

 Here are the downsides:

  •  Money: If colleges are only required to offer adequate financial aid under ED, and they know their school is the student’s #1 choice, they have no incentive to maximize financial aid offers to students. Worse, since all other applications are withdrawn, students do not have an opportunity to compare financial aid offers from other colleges offering admission and to ask their first choice school to match a greater award from its competitor.
  •  Admission Chances: Although the acceptance rate for ED applicants is higher at many colleges, at other schools the reverse is true. For those schools, ED applicants have an admission disadvantage:

  • No updates: When great things continue to happen in late fall and winter, students may want to share the news with colleges. ED applicants lose their chance to update their application with info about their further senior year accomplishments.
  • No options: What 17-year-olds want at the beginning of their senior year, may not be what their 18-year-old selves want as they near high school graduation. Whether it is a change of the student’s heart or mind, doesn’t matter. ED takes away college choices. So when other students are deciding in April after attending Admitted Student Days hosted by different colleges, the ED student is left holding his November basket-the one containing his only college egg.

 POCSmom’s Insight: Carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of various admission programs and your ability to pay for college. If applying early appeals to you, think about Early Action programs that are not binding and usually give students until spring to make their decision, if accepted.

*POCS: Parent Of a College Student