Published Nov. 10, 2022
By RILEY PALSHAW
Whether trying to get an early start or hoping for financial merit aid, more of Carmel High School’s seniors are applying early action to colleges this fall than the school has ever witnessed, according to the teachers and counselors overwhelmed with letters of recommendation and essay consultations.
While historically the early application route has been reserved for students applying early decision, a binding acceptance, this year there has been an increase in seniors instead choosing to apply early action, a nonbinding path in which students receive an early response, but have till May 1 to commit. Although this condenses students into a smaller pool of applicants, giving the impression that applicants have a higher chance of acceptance, it also is a more challenging pool that forces students to distinguish themselves from their peers.
Since early action also involves an earlier deadline, the influx of requested letters of recommendation has overwhelmed what is already a busy fall quarter for many teachers, who report that they’ve been writing twice the letters from within a typical year, if not more.
“I tend to range from 10 to 20 letters each year, and historically only three of those have been for early admissions,” English teacher Barbara McBride says, “but this year I have 16 requested letters and 14 of them [were] early with a Nov. 1 deadline, so I got to a point where I had to say no.”
Over the past four to five years, the number of Carmel High seniors applying early has doubled from approximately 25 to 30 students to around 50 students per year, a number pulled by counselors from the 100 to 110 students who apply via the Common Application. By the end of October, CHS counselor Yesel Von Ruden already had a queue of 28 letters of recommendation to write for her group of seniors applying early action and early decision, adding to the frenzied atmosphere this trend has created for the counseling department.
Jeff Rogers, another CHS counselor, has observed similar spikes in early action decisions with his own seniors. He claims that many of them have an internal drive to get their application done and out of the way, which is why they chose the early action route. This observation is in line with many sentiments from seniors who say that their primary reason for applying to college early was to avoid procrastinating the process entirely.
“I chose early action mainly because I am a procrastinator,” senior Athena Wilson says. “I know that if I don’t do it early I’ll just wait until the last minute, which isn’t beneficial towards the process at all.”
Senior Ava Camargo can also attest to this, explaining that applying early allows her to then focus on her applications for the University of California and California State University.
Of course, seniors aren’t under any illusion that rushing to get in an early application will put them above any other applicants.
“Aside from rolling applications, [college representatives and counselors] say that early action and regular decision applicants aren’t necessarily treated differently, they are just two groups that get worked on at different times,” senior Colin Dowse says. “If you are rushing to get in your early action, it would be better to take more time for regular decision.”
CHS counselors urge students to avoid approaching their application requirements as they would another other assignment or project and instead take the time to brainstorm, write and thoroughly revise the writing elements of their application.
“Putting together the strongest, most compelling college applications—whether conducting the necessary research, brainstorming potential essay topics or composing and continually refining draft after draft of the required writing supplements—is a significant undertaking,” CHS counselor Darren Johnston says. “Yet too often the goal is completion rather than perfection. And unfortunately, applying early can, and ultimately often does, only serve to further compel students towards completion.”
But the motive for choosing early action ranges from student to student. For some, the early application deadline happens to also be the deadline for them to be considered for merit-based aid.
“I’m applying early action to USC because Nov. 1 is the deadline for merit-based financial aid,” senior Grace Wang says. “Since I have two older brothers currently in college, I’ll need all the help I can get.”
For other seniors, the decision to apply early to a handful of schools is more strategic, as the hope is hearing back from colleges sooner will let them know whether they’re in the clear or need to apply to more schools.
“By applying to schools early I will get my acceptance letter back before the regular decision deadline,” senior McCartney Hong explains. “In case I get rejected from a majority of the schools, I will have the opportunity to apply to more schools.”
This appears to be a fairly common strategy among the Class of 2023. Senior Piper Mahoney notes that she purposefully applied early to all of her safety and target schools so that she could know if she has colleges to fall back on sooner rather than later.
Despite students’ justifications for the jump-start, counselors suspect that this recent increase in early applications could simply be a result of external and peer pressures.
“Some kids might not want to apply early, but they’re influenced by their peers,” Rogers says. “They hear someone has a private counselor and is 90 percent done with their application, and then that information gets shared and it’s creating stress. Some kids don’t like being behind.”
Although the cost for outside help with the entire college application process starts at about $3,000, working with a private college counselor is not a rarity among seniors at CHS, and it’s often a beneficial service for students because, as Rogers explains, Carmel High has three comprehensive counselors for all four years of students, not college counselors that can focus strictly on seniors.
That being said, there is some concern from Carmel’s counseling department that private college counselors may be putting external pressures on students and influencing their decision to apply early, but more than anything, counselors are worried that seniors are getting flooded with too many contrasting takes on the college application process.
“You’ve got all of this information coming and funneling through different sources,” Rogers says, “and students are trying to synthesize that and make sense of that to try and come up with a good strategy and action plan for their college applications.”
Do these students know something the counseling department doesn’t? The realities will be revealed when the acceptances and rejections roll in in December.