We’ll start with a disclaimer—we have no magic wand to waive on how to “show the love” to your favorite college. Besides academic criteria, every university pays attention to different things when they are looking at candidates. But one thing is clear, colleges want to extend acceptance letters, and potentially more generous scholarship offers, to those students who most want to go to their school. So what are some ways to show you are interested?
Some colleges may encourage Early Decision (ED) or Early Action (EA) as a way to demonstrate your interest. Early Decision is a binding commitment that says if you get accepted into their school, you will not go anywhere else, and you will withdraw all other applications if accepted ED. Early Action plans are nonbinding. Students will receive a response to their application sooner but are not bound in any way to attend that school.
More and more schools are eliminating ED. We do not often encourage applying ED, as we advocate comparing your full financial aid award letter from each institution side by side to determine what the true net cost will be at each school. The only situation where ED would be acceptable would be if the student really wants to go nowhere else, the family is willing to pay full sticker price, and they have the money to write that check. For example, one of our students applied ED to a highly selective university in the northeast a few years back that was a clear number one choice. It was his only ED school. The family had more than enough money in their college fund to pay the six-figure sum to attend and getting in was the tough part. For many families, this situation is not the case.
Early Action (EA) is more highly encouraged—both by colleges and by us if you have thoroughly researched your colleges. EA is telling the school they are on the short list of schools you really want to attend. EA (and ED) applications are due earlier than regular admission plans, typically in November of your senior year. You will receive the notice of acceptance by the end of the year, and many schools will also send you notification if you have been awarded a merit scholarship
In addition to EA (and on occasion ED), colleges today are tracking everything and as a result you can “show your love” in many ways:
Does your student follow their favorite colleges on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram? (Be sure your student’s online reputation does not show poorly. Have them detag themselves from questionable pictures, etc. Would you be willing to let grandma and grandpa see it?)
Have you visited campus on an official visit? How many times? Did you meet your admission counselor? Have an interview?
Have you participated in camps and other summer programs offered while in high school?
Are you on their mailing list? Are you opening their emails? Whether or not you opened that email from XYZ University is trackable by them, and they can tell if you clicked on anything within it.
Did your student talk with the college representative when they visited their high school?
Did you stop at their table at the local college fair? Fill in one of their interest cards?
A quick word about FAFSA — When you complete the FAFSA, you will be asked which colleges to send the report to. The U.S. Department of Education announced on August 13, 2015 that colleges will no longer get to see the list of other colleges on an applicant's FAFSA. This win is huge for the college bound. This little known tidbit was a sneaky way colleges were using to select students for admission based on who they listed at the top of their FAFSA form.
When considering ED, EA, or the myriad ways of getting noticed, be sure of one thing. Be sure the school which is your favorite, the one with the most love, the one with the best academic fit, is the one you can afford or are willing to sacrifice for. And be sure the sacrifice is well planned in advance to avoid a broken heart! Remember, never rule out a school based on sticker price. The net cost is key. As you do your search, make sure to visit the school's net cost calculator to get an idea of what your out of pocket cost would be and learn more about the vastly different financial aid policies at schools to find your UNICORN UNIVERSITY .