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Early Decision Applications to BU Surge, Matching National Trend

It can be a leg up on admission, if you’re sure you want to be a Terrier

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The normal process of applying to BU—application due January 2, with notification of admission, or not, arriving by late March—taxed the patience of Justin Nardella, who was certain he wanted to be a Terrier and was happy to prune a few months off the stressful waiting period. So he applied for early decision (ED), which commits an applicant to attend the University in exchange for a welcome-to-BU letter that comes months before regular applicants learn whether they’re in.

“I was amazed by BU’s engineering facilities,” says Nardella (’23), who plans to enroll in the College of Engineering. A cyclist and photographer, he was also attracted by the “intangible qualities” he found on the Charles River Campus. “I was able to imagine a future at BU more vividly than other schools,” he says, making it unnecessary to apply to several colleges.

Nardella reflects a growing number of wannabe Terriers choosing the ED route.

BU offers early acceptance on two timetables: regular ED, with an application due November 1 for a December 15 notification date; and ED 2, with a due date of January 2 and notification by February 15. For the Class of 2023, arriving this fall, the University received almost 2,500 ED applications, an 11 percent increase over last year, says Kelly Walter (Wheelock’81), associate vice president for enrollment and dean of admissions. ED 2 applicants soared 13 percent, to more than 2,200.

The reason the University offers two rounds of early decision, Walter says, is because “some students are just not ready to make a binding commitment by November 1, so ED 2 becomes a more desirable option for them. These students may need extra time to visit college campuses. They may want to see their first high school marking period grades. Or in some cases, they are awaiting test results from a later administration of the SAT or ACT.”

From Ivy League schools to Duke to Notre Dame and Washington University in St. Louis, colleges around the country are reporting similar spikes in early-bird applicants seeking the admissions worm, the Washington Post reports.

Walter spies three impulses behind early decision’s increasing popularity. First, as BU and other schools become more selective, she says, “the competition for admission is keener than ever, and by applying early decision, a student sends a strong message to their top-choice college about their desire to attend.”

The hope is that telegraphing this passion confers an edge in the competition for a slot in the freshman class. “And in some cases,” she adds, “this is definitely true.” (Nardella says that bolstering his chances of admission influenced his ED application.)

Second, some schools fill half or more of their freshmen class through ED; BU projects that 40 percent of this fall’s incoming class will comprise those admitted by early decision. With those slots taken up, cutting the number of openings available with regular decision, Walter says that many students fear that “they’ll be disadvantaged in the admissions process if they wait to apply regular decision, when the competition is even keener.

“It’s the difference between applying in an ED applicant pool of 2,500 students or a regular decision pool of 60,000-plus students.”

Third, and most obvious, who wants to sweat extra months, worrying whether they’ve gotten into their top-choice school?

“The college search process can be long and arduous,” Walter says, “and many students are ready to move forward and finish their search in December. If admitted, early decision gives students the freedom to more fully enjoy the final half of their senior year.” (That doesn’t mean they can blow off studies during that finale to high school; students accepted through ED are expected to maintain their strong academic performance.)

One high school college counselor told the Post that ED worsens economic inequality. Students from low-income families may not be able to commit to attending one school, but rather need to compare financial aid offers after gaining admission to several schools. But Walter argues that ED at BU is an option “regardless of a student’s financial background.”

The University provides the same financial aid to ED students as to regularly admitted ones, she says, with “27 percent of our recently admitted and awarded ED students [having] exceptional financial need. They each received aid awards from BU that met their full financial eligibility.”

But, she adds, if a family wants to compare financial aid packages from several schools, “ED may not be the best option for them.”

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Rich Barlow, Senior Writer, BU Today, Bostonia, Boston University
Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

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