For Katie Bauer, getting an early start is habitual.
The Rock Bridge High student wakes at 5:15 a.m. to catch an aerobics class before school. She arrives at appointments 10 minutes ahead of time. She took the SAT 10 months before any college application deadline.
And when Bauer applies to Duke University in six weeks, the 17-year-old hopes that finishing the task pronto will give her an edge over the school’s other candidates.
Bauer is one of the nation’s pool of advanced high school seniors applying for early admission to their choice of school.
Counselors at Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools estimate fewer than 10 seniors at each school will apply for early decision or early action.
By filing an application Nov. 1, Bauer will know by Christmas whether she can head to her dream school next fall.
But in the process, the Rock Bridge senior may also lock herself out of the chance to attend any other school. Under the early-decision admission policy at Duke, Bauer must attend the university if she is accepted.
“Since there is no other school I want to go to as much as Duke, early decision is a perfect option for me,” she said.
College-bound students gambling on early admissions have two choices: apply for early decision or early action. Early-decision candidates submit an application to their No. 1 choice by the start of November, and typically receive a letter of acceptance, rejection or deferment by New Year’s.
If accepted, early-decision applicants like Bauer have a binding agreement to attend the school and must withdraw their application to any other college or university.
Under early-action policies, high school seniors also hear from their top pick by the end of the winter holidays. However, early-action students have until May to submit a response. They may apply to other colleges by regular application deadlines and then choose from their acceptances in the spring.
Critics of early decision say the binding plan forces seniors to narrow their school choice to one college or university too early. The policy has also been panned for benefiting privileged students who do not need to compare financial aid packages from other schools.
Ann Landes, director of Hickman guidance, said binding early-decision plans are suitable for students who know their selected school offers the best fit for their study interests.
The plan is not for students who simply want to simply secure a place at a reputable university, she said.
Kim Girse, the college and career counselor at Rock Bridge, offered two reasons why local students may not be applying in droves for binding early decision. First, extremely motivated students often like to gain admission to several schools, she said.
Financial assistance is also a consideration for students, Girse said. Schools with early-decision admission do not necessarily offer as many automatic scholarships as other schools, since the applicant pool is so competitive, Girse said.
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