In the halls, on Facebook, email and Twitter, the conversation on Halloween wasn’t about what costume to wear. It was a refrain of “how are you doing with November 1? How many early letters are you writing this year?” I would like to shift the conversation.  How many of your students are really ready to apply early? Have they taken the time to develop a well thought out list? Are their essays on November 1 the result of careful reflection and multiple drafts? Have their teachers had time with the demands of the beginning of the school year to craft thoughtful letters? If they are applying ED, is it out of fear that all the spaces at the good colleges will be taken early or is it because, after a thorough and thoughtful process, they have identified a college they are confident will be a best fit for them. Are early plans driving parents to feel they have to hire someone outside their student’s school to manage the process for their child?

On the college side, early plans help spread out the workload for admissions staff since adolescents are notoriously deadline driven and  ED helps to manage yield. Is there evidence, though, that early plans help build a more desirable applicant pool or do they perhaps produce a less diverse pool?  Are students admitted ED more likely to graduate and become alumni donors? Do we have current data to demonstrate that early plans really serve institutions well?

We know that adolescence is a time of significant cognitive development. When I lecture on this topic in the college counseling classes I teach for the UC Berkeley college counseling certificate program, I always comment that I can’t imagine a process that is more developmentally inappropriate. High school students are still maturing in the area of executive function and a few months can make a big difference in their ability to use good judgment and to manage the complexity of the admissions process. Is there another timeline or an alternative set of requirements for college applications that would both allow the colleges to meet their needs and allow the high school students the gift of extra maturity?

By Peggy Hock