Study questions wisdom of early decision

Stephanie Louise Lu

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While her friends were stressing out over college applications, Weinberg sophomore Irene Liang already knew where she was going.

“I visited NU before senior year and I really liked it, so I decided to do early decision to get it over with,” she said. “I’m really glad I did it.”

But a new report on adolescent development suggests early decision may not be the best choice for everyone. “College Choice and Adolescent Development: Psychological and Social Implications of Early Admission” by Barbara Schneider, a Michigan State University sociology professor, shows that students could be rushing into making premature decisions.

The present generation of adolescents, she notes, are showing better physical development than past generations. However, today’s adolescents are also less likely to form mature, long-term commitments because of increased parental involvement and other factors. Often, high school students have some idea of their future goals but are not yet ready to make an educational plan to get there.

Her research suggests that “students who make these choices very early, without having opportunities to explore other options, report some dissatisfaction with their college choices and lives,” Schneider said.

At Northwestern, freshman applications for the class of 2013 are 3 to 4 percent higher than last year’s, and early decision applications increased 13 percent this year, showing how competitive college admissions have become.

“We always remind students who are contemplating applying early decision to talk to their parents and guidance counselors,” said Michael Mills, associate provost for university enrollment. “We reinforce that it’s a binding commitment.”

Under the university’s early decision program, students are bound to attend NU if accepted. Students applying early decision to NU are generally well-advised, Mills said.

“Most of our students are not the first in their families to go to college,” he said. “Nationally I could see students rushing into ill-advised decisions, but I don’t think it’s a problem for schools like Northwestern.”

Jazmyn Tuberville, a prospective student from James Bowie High School in Austin, Texas, did not apply early decision but said she was anxious about being accepted to NU.

“I have a friend who got into NYU on early decision, and I’m still waiting,” she said. “I’m freaking out because I didn’t do early decision.”

Although Tuberville said she found early decision very attractive, she needed more time to think her choices over.

“I was working on other applications too, but after reading about NU online and everything, I was just beating myself up for not doing early decision,” she said. “After listening to an info session when [the speaker] was talking about choosing holistically, based on who you are rather than whether you did early or not – that really made me feel a lot better.”