This past week, the US Department of Justice announced that it was starting an investigation into whether the agreements colleges have to share information about which applicants are applying early to them violates federal antitrust laws (click here to access a recent article covering the DOJ move in Inside Higher Ed).
The investigation belies the point that matters for prospective applicants: colleges have agreements in place to see if students are applying early decision to more than one college.
Why does this matter for families preparing to go through the college admissions process?
Early Decision is an admission program offered by many colleges. Students apply early, usually by November 1st, and find out within one to two months whether they have been admitted. Many highly selective colleges fill up to half of their spots through early application programs and, depending on the school, applying early may significantly boost an applicant’s odds of admission.
Applying early decision sends the strong message that the particular college is an applicant’s top choice. As part of the program, applicants must agree to only apply early decision to one college, and if accepted are obligated to attend (and withdraw any regular applications submitted elsewhere). For many, applying early pursuant to early decision rules is part of the strategy that students use to earn admission to their dream college.
Many students and parents, aware of the boost that applying early affords at some schools, have asked me in the past, why they cannot apply early decision to multiple schools and then just renege on the ones they do not want to attend after they hear back from all of their early applications.
The fact that there are agreements in place between colleges to report to each other who is applying early is exactly the reason why. Violating the rules will result in a rejection among the schools that share this information.
It is not worth it to break the rules when applying to college. Doing so is likely to result in a rejection. More importantly, doing so deprives students of the chance to learn how to be strategic in a way that makes them stand out. Earning admission is not about breaking the rules or gaming the system, it is about learning how to be strategic and creative to develop a niche and stand out from other high achieving applicants.