Here are some questions I get around this time each year:
>Q: Should everyone always apply early?
A: Early Decision and Early Action programs have earlier deadlines and notify students earlier, usually between mid-December and mid-January, instead of waiting until April. Applying Early Decision, which is binding, also often provides a noticeable bounce in acceptance rates.
Applying Early Action, which is not binding, gives students the benefit of applying to multiple schools but does not require them to commit until May 1. Generally speaking, if a student's grades are consistent from freshman through junior year, then applying early probably makes sense. For a student that had less-than-stellar grades in their freshman or sophomore year and was able to pull it together by junior year, they are probably better off waiting until regular deadlines in January so they can demonstrate that this trend has continued into their senior year.
>Q: My school won't send out the Counselor Statements until the students have submitted their applications. If students wait to submit until the last minute, that means that the Counselor Statement will not be part of the application folder by the deadline. Will this student still be considered an Early Applicant?
A: Yes. Colleges want to see the student component of the application complete and submitted by their deadline. Test scores, transcripts, letters of recommendation and Counselor Statements can arrive shortly after the deadline.
>Q: Is it bad to put "undecided" down as your major?
A: College admissions officers get a chuckle from nervous students and parents when they ask, "What do you think is our most popular major?" No, it's not psychology or political science, it's undecided. I usually advise undecided students to pick something that they think they would like to study. Except in a few cases, students are not committing to this major.
>Q: Do colleges care about freshman grades?
A: Every bad grade hurts the GPA, but missteps early on or those due to illness, injury or family issues are evaluated within the context of a high school career. Colleges really appreciate seeing a consistent upward trajectory of grades.
>Q: Is it OK to submit the same essay to more than one college?
A: Yes. Actually many colleges and universities encourage students to spend their time writing their best essay possible, fully recognizing that since the essay speaks to exactly who the student is, that it will be shared with multiple colleges.
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.