The Early Action Problem?

It’s that time of year again. It’s only one day away from Early Action decisions and people are getting antsy. In fact, sometimes the thought is so unbearable, you don’t really think about it until the day itself.

The December of my senior year in high school is a bit hazy for me. But I still remember December 15 clearly. It was a Friday. I was staying late to hang out with my friend, the student government president, before we went to dinner in Chinatown. I was doing some work on the student newspaper. Our offices were right next to each other. The hallways were unusually deserted; most of our friends had gone home so they could find out in private. I was probably working in The Spectator office because I secretly just wanted to be alone when it happened. I could close the door, turn on the computers, and click.  No one would hear. Only I would know. Good or bad.

Lately, there’s been fuss about why colleges such as Yale even have Early Action anymore ( What’s the point? What if you admit people by mistake who truly don’t want to go to Yale and are biding their time until they get into their top choice?  What if you are admitting people who are just playing the field, keeping their options open? Aren’t we gifting the two populations the same opportunity, not being able to separate those most interested to those who will soon (or eventually) disappoint? Wouldn’t early decision be more sense?

I don’t know really know how the Yale Admission Dean looks at it, but here’s my take.

You can probably grasp from the tone of my questions that I like Early Action. If it weren’t for Early Action, I probably wouldn’t have chosen Yale. If we go along with the analogy that college admissions is like online dating in your 30s (or, in some cultures, arranged marriage), in which both sides have to choose each other, figure out if their personalities match, and say “I do,” where the honeymoon period can end, and it might not always be exactly how it seemed to you in the beginning, then, well, Early Action makes sense. Adults do it in the real world all the time. I think it’s something called…dating—or, for some, getting engaged.

It’s true. Yale doesn’t need an Early Action program if it doesn’t want one. In fact, if we all went with the general equilibrium theory, if everyone in the Harvard-Yale-Princeton trio had only regular decision, then everyone could delay their procrastination until later in the game, and wait for results much later, too. But, you know what, I wasn’t always sure. I love Yale, don’t get me wrong, and I had always liked the idea of Yale. But I also had my flaws. I never thought I would be going to an Ivy League school. I had never thought I would get in. More importantly, my college counselors were advising me to explore my options. I felt overwhelmed.

Being able to apply Early Action to one school allowed me to focus. Regardless of where that focus was, whether it was on Yale or any other college. Getting in Early Action gave me confidence and pushed me to get to know the school, to learn what made it tick, and in the process, to find out more about what I wanted. Without an early action program, I thought in hindsight, all of this wouldn’t have been possible. I had gotten a lot of leeway. I had been able to take my time every step of the way. I had over four months to say yes to Yale (what a patient future spouse!).

I was on the fence about Yale for months, even after I had gotten in. I wasn’t so sure. I knew people resented me because Yale wasn’t my top choice. Nor was it my second choice. I couldn’t even rank Yale when I applied. In May, on the day I had to make my decision, it didn’t really matter that I had gotten into Yale months before in the sense that the decision was still immediate, and was based on who I was on that day. I had changed. Most people say freedom allows you to make the best choice for yourself, and that is what exactly I had gotten, at the end. So thank you, Yale, for giving me that freedom.

So as you find yourself tomorrow, December 15, anxiously awaiting the answer, just remember—whatever happens, take your time. Take the time to reflect on what you want, what the schools you are considering are like, and how you may change in the coming months as senior year winds down. You won’t regret it.