Early Decision emphasizes economic divide


Graphic by Maggy Esserman

Adelaide Kaiser, Magazine Editor

When I’m filling out any college application, there’s a drop-down menu asking me for my preferred admission plan. There’s Regular Decision, with the typical January deadline and mid-spring admissions decision. There’s Early Action, which has an earlier deadline and allows you to receive an earlier admissions decision. And there’s Early Decision (ED), a binding admissions plan, where you sign a contract stating that if you’re admitted to the school, you are required to attend.

For most of my colleges, I applied Early Action. I didn’t have a clear top choice, so I didn’t worry about Early Decision that much. That choice was for kids who knew exactly where they wanted to go, and I wasn’t one of them.

One day though, I realized that I did have one school that I wanted a little more than all the others. Early Decision applicants had an almost 10 percent better chance of getting in. That’s a significant increase in odds for a pretty selective school. So I started the conversation with my parents about potentially applying ED.

The issue I ran into, however, was the cost. This particular school costs $71,000 a year, including room and board, among other expenses. That’s not unheard of in the world of college. If I got into this school I would have to go, and there’s no telling how much financial aid I would receive.

My family cannot afford to pay $71,000 a year for school, despite the fact that my parents have been saving up for my college education since I was born. My family is comfortable, but college still costs an amount of money that is unfathomable to us. We sit in a weird place as a middle-class family where we don’t qualify for a lot of need-based aid, which makes the admissions process hard.

Patrice Arrington, the Director of College and Career Services at Wilson, said that ED is most beneficial for either low-income or high-income families. “Most people who are applying ED, either they’re 100 percent demonstrated need or can write a check out for the full cost of attendance,” Arrington said. “For our lower economic class students and our higher economic class students applying ED is a benefit.” However, not every school meets 100 percent of need-based aid, which all but completely deters lower-income students from applying.

There are student loans and scholarships, but those are a gamble. So many young people begin their adult lives weighed down by loans that follow them around, sucking money out of their paychecks for years after they leave campus. I would prefer to not be one of those people if I can help it. For that reason, it is important that I weigh my options when deciding where I want to go. If I apply ED, however, I cannot do that.

This is the flaw in the system. ED unfairly benefits upper-class students who don’t need to worry about their financial aid package. They can put their dreams above all else. The rest of us have to put our reality above our dreams. They can choose a school and make a binding choice to go there, without worrying about how they will pay.

This is part of the systemic way that our higher-education system benefits people with money.  Paying for standardized tests, private college counselors, and $50-80 application fees for each school adds to the cost of a college education that is already mind-blowingly expensive for most families in this country.

The price of college has turned an experience that should be about education into one about money. It’s no secret that our society benefits the wealthy, and college is just one example. But ED is one aspect of this that just irks me more than others. ED has a higher acceptance rate for many schools since it’s a smaller pool of applicants that have a clear top choice and can afford to take that gamble.

Why can’t a student simply say that a school is their top choice? Why must they commit to an institution without fully considering what their time there would mean for their family financially? There needs to be a way for students to show their interest in a school without a binding commitment they may not be able to afford. Even though some schools say in the fine print that you can withdraw from an ED agreement if you don’t get a financial aid package that fits your needs, a student should never have to try and get out of a binding admissions process that has little regard for the financial situation of the students. We know that our country benefits the privileged, but eliminating ED applications would be one way of leveling the playing field.