Every year, we receive many calls and emails (most often from parents) that goes along the lines of..
“My daughter has a 3.45 GPA and a 1120 SAT, should she apply early action or wait until regular decision?”
This is a difficult question to answer, but here is some advice that may help in your decision.
An understanding of applying early:
There are many different types of early admissions processes at colleges and universities. The two most common terms used are “Early Decision” and “Early Action”.
Early Decision is used by some schools as a binding agreement between the applicant and the college. The student is stating that they would attend that school if they are admitted during the Early Decision process. If they are admitted through Early Decision, the student would also need to withdraw their applications from any other schools they have applied. Students should be careful about applying to a school through Early Decision. Since you are making a commitment to that school, it should be your dream school where you would attend. Keep in mind, you are making a commitment to school before financial aid has been officially determined (and tuition prices have often been set), so finances shouldn’t be an issue.
Early Action is used by some schools to allow students to possibly hear something sooner than students that would apply later. This process is non-binding, so students still have until May 1st to make your commitment to their college. Some schools use the same bar of criteria for early action versus a regular decision process and some schools use a higher bar of criteria for early action versus regular decision.
How the process works at JMU:
JMU does use the Early Action process, so it is non-binding. We typically set a high bar of criteria on who we offer admission to in this early process. For last year, we received about 10,000 of our 23,000 applications during the Early Action process. During Early Action, we had less than one half of our applications and didn’t know how many would be applying through Regular Decision. Inevitably, we need to take a cautious approach to our decisions.
For Early Action, we have three decisions that we send out to students. Some students are offered admission (Hurrah!), some are deferred admission, and some are denied admission.
For the students that are deferred, we automatically carry their application over to Regular Decision so they would not need to reapply. We re-evaluate their application credentials with the students that apply through Regular Decision. Historically, we are usually able to lower the bar of criteria slightly, but this can vary based on the upcoming applicant pool.
For the students that are denied, the admissions process at JMU would be over for the year. It is typically a small number of students, but these are applicants that we know would be below our normal admissions standards and would not be competitive for our waitlist opportunity.
We usually don’t know exactly what criteria we will use year-to-year for Early Action, but typically a student that we would offer admission to in this process would have a very challenging curriculum based on what is offered at their school (typically several college-level courses like AP, IB, or Dual Enrollment courses along with many honors-level courses throughout high school), high grades (usually almost all As & Bs), high SAT/ACT scores, and good involvement.
Benefits of applying Early Action:
- The top benefit is that some students can know if they are offered admission early. We typically notify students around the second week of January, rather than waiting until the end of March.
- We do have one scholarship program that only goes to students that apply early – the Thomas and Karyn Dingledine Scholarship. This scholarship has a separate application and requires additional essays and letters of recommendation and is also due by November 1st.
“If I apply Early Action and am deferred, will that give me an advantage during Regular Decision?”
This is another common question we receive. It is hard for us to be able to determine your reasoning why you are applying early. Some students apply through Early Action because we are their top choice. Some other students applied to another school that was their top choice and then decided to just finish the rest of their applications early as well. At JMU, we don’t keep track heavily of a student’s demonstrated interest (when they applied, how many times they visited, emails, etc.), so this is hard for us to gauge. There is no benefit in our process for Regular Decision if you are deferred.
Things to also consider:
- I often suggest that it is fine to apply to JMU through Early Action as long as the student is OK with the possibility of being deferred or being denied. The admissions application process can be stressful and in some cases may be the first time that a student is told they may not be able to get something they want. Some view being deferred as outright rejection and this isn’t the case for JMU at all. We do have plenty of students that are deferred admission and then are later admitted during our Regular Decision process. So, don’t think that “JMU doesn’t want me” if you are deferred. The admissions process is not over for you yet and you are still being considered.
- If you are a student that had a rough year and you feel that senior year grades would be important to see, I may suggest to wait to apply through Regular Decision. We do ask all high schools to send in your mid-year grades during your senior year, so we do incorporate that as another piece of information to use in helping us make our final decisions.
- Relax and take a deep breath. We can’t tell students the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this article because we have to weigh a student’s credentials against the others that apply. If you buy a lottery ticket and receive the odds of winning, it still doesn’t let you know if you will be a winner until you scratch off the ticket (or when the lucky numbers are drawn). We can’t tell if you will be admitted until you have applied and we have all the information in front of us. If it was as easy as a matrix of GPA and SAT scores, we wouldn’t need an admissions process. Please see the other article, “How do I get in?”
While it can be stressful, try and have fun with it. You have hopefully done your part to show us why you would make a good candidate for JMU. Submit your application and do something else to help take your mind off the process.