The Early Decision Process and Some Advice for Rising Seniors

By Summer Ford

As we start summer break, many of you now have to seriously think about your college lists, essays, resume, and everything else that comes with submitting all of your college applications later this fall. Planning all of these things is hard, and gets even harder if you plan to submit a binding Early Decision application to your top choice and find yourself facing a November 1st hard deadline. I chose to apply ED to Cornell University last fall barely knowing what it meant to submit a binding application or what kind of timeline I should stick to for essay writing, so I asked a few juniors for some of your questions! 

“How do I know if I should ED to a school?”

Meeting with college counseling and talking to your parents is a great first step! But beyond that, you have to really be able to see yourself at one particular school, even if you got into every other school you applied to. If you have 2 or 3 schools that you really like, you should not force yourself to pick one of them. But don’t forget to give yourself the time to let your opinions on schools shift as you become more familiar with them. All throughout my junior year I was dead set on applying ED to a certain school, so much so that I watched every webinar they offered, stalked their instagram, and reached out to my local rep for the school. However, by the time I started finalizing my college lists, the little things that nagged me about the school began to build up. 

When I started thinking about Cornell, I went through youtube channels, admissions blogs, campus tours, and watched virtual information sessions to get a better idea of what it would be like to go there. I never would have expected to apply at all, but by August I had taken the first school off my list completely and decided to ED to Cornell instead. Most early deadlines are November 1st, so deciding as early as you can will help you be confident that you have enough time to get your essays done. There are so many great blogs you can read by current and former admissions officers and counselors that go much more in depth on this topic and can give you some key questions to think about if you’re unsure. But if you can’t decide–don’t ED!

“How did you start writing your essays and thinking of topics?” 

I had my first meeting with college counseling to talk through possible essay topics in June of last year. This is a great opportunity to throw some things out there–don’t worry about being too wacky or if your topic might seem lame! Come up with a list of general things about you or experiences that you’ve had that you might want to show in your essay and then go from there to choose your topic. I read a couple of advice books that really helped me, and I highly recommend ordering them off of Amazon (I will list them below)

When writing my first essay, I struggled. A lot. I wrote three different full drafts that I hated, and, come September, I still had nothing. Talk to your parents! I ended up getting the idea I based my common app off of from my dad. Even if they don’t really understand what these essays are supposed to be about, they can help trigger some ideas you might not have considered. If you can’t figure out your common app, start drafting smaller essays when schools release their prompts. This will help you learn to write about yourself, and can give you something else to focus on so you don’t feel like you are running out of time. 

Start your essays early! The more you write about yourself the more you will realize what you don’t want to include in your common app essay. I had probably 4-5 first ideas for my essay that I thought were winners but just could not get to sound right on paper. If you are having a major block with your topic, or have 300 great words that you can’t expand on, try something else. I cannot emphasize that enough. It’s sad to let go of an idea you really thought could work, but you will likely be able to apply it to a shorter supplemental you write later. 

However, if you take anything away from this article, it is to get all three of these books and read them. Preferably twice. 

Write Your Way In: Crafting an Unforgettable College Admissions Essay by Rachel Toor

Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps by Alan Gelb

College Essay Essentials by Ethan Sawyer

“How many people should read over my essays?”

This is a question that will look different for everyone. When you have your first draft, scheduling a college counseling meeting to go over it can help you refine your ideas. Some people will stop there because while you want your essay to sound polished, you also want it to sound like you. I did not stop there. I had my mom, sister, and two english teachers look over my essay and give all the advice they could on how to make it better. Each person that you ask will have their own ideas on what a successful college essay should look like, and these may not align well with others. It is so helpful to have more eyes on it, but be careful to take ideas with a grain of salt and don’t sacrifice a sentence that you really love because someone else thinks it sounds weird. When you go to submit, you should feel confident that this essay represents you as a student and the kind of person you are, not a mishmash of the 11 different people you had edit it. 

“Does applying Early Decision increase my chances of getting in?”

This is a pretty controversial question, and I’m not really sure it has an answer. Easy answer: no. Harder answer: yes and no. Many schools have much higher ED acceptance rates than regular decision and it can be easier to stand out in a smaller applicant pool, but they also have a stronger applicant pool applying. EDing is not going to magically increase your chances, but by showing the demonstrated interest in the school and telling them that you would go if admitted, you are only helping yourself. Don’t panic that you have to apply ED or you won’t get in, but if you have a specific school that you want to–do it! Finding out earlier will take away months of additional stress if you get in, and gives you so much more time to find a roommate and get excited about next fall. College counseling is ultimately who will help you decide whether or not to ED, but if there is a school that is 100% your top choice and you can make it work financially, there is no downside to applying early if your application is finished. 

While all of this seems easy to write about now, I have to be honest and remember how much I struggled last fall to get everything done and how terrified I was about where I would be on May 1st. Picking a school is scary. Picking a school that you will have to bind yourself if you get in is even scarier. November 1st through Mid December last year was the hardest part of my high school experience, it is excruciating to sit back and know that your application is being looked at but that you still have to keep writing essays for other schools in case you don’t get in (please keep working on apps, I promise it will feel better to have 5 applications wasted than scramble to finish them over winter break). 

I was lucky enough to get in, but many of my friends did not. I know you all will hear this a lot, but if you don’t get into your ED school you will be just as happy at the place you end up choosing. Having the extra time to decide can help you better weigh your options, and choose a place you may never have considered in August.

If you feel overwhelmed working on college apps, reach out to college counseling and Mrs. Ellis. Reach out to your friends too, many of them will be feeling the same way. College app season is hard, but the relief you will feel if you get into your ED school or when you pick where to commit to will make it worth it in the end. 

If you have more questions, or are thinking about applying to Cornell next year (ED or not) please reach out to me! I am happy to answer any questions you might have about Cornell and its application process or will be able to give you contact info for someone there who might better be able to help. When I was applying last year I was too scared to talk to the person I knew there because I was scared about being judged if I didn’t get in. Don’t make the same mistake as me–reach out! My new email is ssf57@cornell.edu and I will do everything I can to help!

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