Deciding when to apply to school can often get applicants mentally twisted, as they attempt to inject strategy into the process.
We will speak more specifically to this decision in another post, but at this time of year, it makes sense to first talk about early action. More and more schools it seems, have an early action option which throws yet another wrench into the round one vs. round two vs. round three discussion.
Early action is simply a special status application round whereby the schools provide “preferential consideration” to applicants who 1) apply early according to a specific deadline imposed by the admissions committee and in some cases, 2) promise to drop the pursuit of other schools if they are admitted.
Why do they do this?
It is a simple matter of yield. Yield a dreaded figure for most business school admissions offices because it’s the number of applicants who are offered admission who actually end up enrolling at the school. The flip side of yield, however is the number of student who decline the offer and leave their seat to be potentially filled by someone else. Granted, this is not as much of a problem for schools like Harvard, Stanford and Wharton, who seem to have no trouble at all getting folks to enroll (for some reason), but even at these super elite schools, there are people every year who are admitted but end up turning them down.
For some schools, yield is a sizable headache, particularly schools in the top ten but often found bouncing around in the bottom of that coveted group.
Despite being top schools in their own right, believe it or not, they are often used as safety schools for the most qualified applicants. So if someone has a bullet-proof profile and applies to Wharton, Harvard and Duke, when they get the call that they got into HBS and Duke, they often choose HBS and drop Duke. This happens enough to some schools that they have to scramble each year with their waitlist to fill every seat before the semester begins. In order to combat this problem, many have started using the early action offer in an attempt to avoid this stress. By bringing in a certain number of guaranteed students early in the process, they begin the admissions season with the assurance of a core group of students whom they know are very unlikely to change their minds (mostly because beyond the promise comes the requirement of paying a hefty deposit to hold their spot).
So should you apply early action or not?
There are two important questions to ask yourself first: 1) Would you be happy going to this school even if you were accepted by another school? 2) Could your core profile and application benefit from a bit of extra consideration, without which, you’d be more concerned about your chances of admission? If the answer is yes to both questions, or even if the answer is yes at least to #1, then early action may be a good option.