sealPurdue News

September 1998

Expert: Select carefully from menu of admissions plans

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- High school students need to read the fine print before applying to college.

Every university has its own admission plan -- for example, early decision, early action, rolling -- and it's important for applicants to know the differences and ramifications of each option before applying.

"Once students have made some decisions about where they want to go to school, it's critical to figure out which admission plan will be the most beneficial," Doug Christiansen, Purdue University's director of admissions, says.

Early decision and action plans are designed for students who want to apply to their first-choice school well before application deadlines.

  • Early decision is a binding agreement between the student and the university that says, if admitted, the student will enroll in that institution.

"Students applying for early decision admissions need to understand that if accepted they are bound to pay their deposit and show up on campus in the fall," Christiansen says. "Each student can have only one early decision application pending at a time, but can have regular applications pending with other schools. If granted early decision, applications with other schools have to be withdrawn."

Colleges typically let students know within a reliable and clearly stated time period whether they have been admitted, denied or deferred to later consideration with the regular applicants.

"Early decision allows for planning on the front end for both students and colleges," Christiansen says. "Admissions offices want to be able to guarantee enrollment figures as soon as possible, and many students want to have their plans in place well before the end of their senior year."

Some schools that offer an early decision admission plan are Harvard University, Wabash College and Yale University.

  • Early action allows the student to apply to his or her university of choice by a specific fall deadline, but there is no commitment to enroll if accepted. It is very similar to early decision but is nonbinding.

"Early action is very student oriented," Christiansen says. "It lets students know if they've been accepted very early in the process, but does not force them to make a decision right away. Even if admitted, they still can apply to other schools. However, the student will be required to commit, pay the admissions deposit, by the May 1 national reply date."

Students who apply under either early decision or early action are notified of estimated financial aid packages when they are accepted. Christiansen says some students who file an early decision application run into financial problems if they are not accepted and haven't applied at any other schools.

"Even if someone is applying early decision, it's important to have backup plans in place for financial reasons. Federal financial aid plans are based on need, so timing isn't essential. But if students don't apply to their second-, third- and even fourth-choice schools until after they've heard about early decision, it may be too late to qualify for the university's merit-based aid."

Early action plans are in place at the University of Notre Dame and Texas A&M University, as well as in several academic programs at Purdue.

  • With a rolling admissions plan, colleges admit students who meet the admission requirements on a first-come, first-served basis until the freshman class is full.

Christiansen encourages students to turn in applications as soon as possible: "It is possible for exceptional applicants to be turned away because the freshman class is full. The easiest way to ensure a spot is to turn the application in as soon as you can."

Some examples of schools with rolling admissions plans are Indiana University, the University of Michigan and Purdue University.

Many universities and colleges incorporate all three plans into their admissions programs. Christiansen says careful reading is important during the college search.

"Not all schools use the early action, early decision, or rolling terminology," he says. "It is very important for students to find out what plans are in place at each school that interests them. If it's unclear, make sure to ask the admissions counselors."

He also cautions students to remember to stay on track during their senior year.

"Even if students are admitted in the fall of their senior year in high school, it is still their responsibility to stay motivated. Explanations will have to be made for sudden drops in grades or dropping classes required for admission," Christiansen says.

Source: Doug Christiansen, (765) 494-7014; e-mail,

Writer: Jenny Pratt, (765) 496-3133; e-mail,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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