In the universe of college counseling and admission, acronyms are bandied about: ACT and SAT for the two primary entrance tests, FAFSA for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, GPA for grade point average, and many more. If you walk by Nobles’ college counseling offices, you are sure to hear yet another acronym: “ED,” for “early decision.”
Director of College Counseling Michael Denning says that ED—when students apply early in the admission season and an acceptance is binding—has pros and cons.
“Early decision is a great tool for us,” he says, noting that many of the most competitive institutions accept between 35 and 50 percent of their incoming classes through ED—and the acceptance rate for ED applicants is higher than for those in the regular pool. Denning says that ED can be used to students’ advantage, but first it is important to define the key criteria—the fit—and the student and family’s expectations.
“Our students apply to the most selective colleges and universities. We care deeply about fit—and we also recognize the importance of strategy.”
Denning explains that some college counselors shy away from strongly advocating for early decision; it is considered somewhat controversial in college counseling circles. Why? If students have not done their research and developed an understanding of the process, they are more likely to apply to a program ED that isn’t a great fit. The college application timeline for ED requires that students identify their first choices in early fall. Early decision, then, requires doing some work over the summer.
Why does ED work at Nobles? “We teach students to be good consumers,” Denning says. “In addition to helping students to understand what ‘fits,’ i.e., all the wonderful opportunities available in higher education, we look at data-based models of selectivity, so students know not only where they would like to go but also where they have a pretty good chance of getting in.”
College counselors begin working with Class II students (juniors) early in the year. The college counseling office is also open throughout the summer—an anomaly among private schools—to accommodate meetings with families and students and to refine the college list. In addition, the ratio of counselors to students at Nobles is strong, with five counselors working with classes of 115–125. “The school and its leadership are really invested in thoughtful college counseling,” Denning says.
Each year, the college counseling staff also visits scores of colleges and universities to nurture relationships, to identify hidden gems in higher education, to ensure that college admission deans understand Nobles rigorous programs and talented students and to help students understand the culture of the institutions they are considering. In addition, about 100 colleges and universities visit the Nobles campus each year.
Eighty percent of the students who opted to apply ED were admitted to their school of choice in late 2012. Regular decisions are delivered to students in March. By mid-February 2013, 91 percent of Nobles students already had been admitted to at least one school. By April, more than 70 percent of the members of the Class of 2013 were admitted to a first-choice school. “We have a careful process and make strategic use of the summer and of tools like ED,” says Denning. “We also have a really strong class, [and] that allows us to do this work well.”