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By Lauren Ohayon

For many high school seniors, their final year speeds by in a blur of excitement, relief, and college applications. For a growing number, however, the new buzzword surrounding college admissions is "early decision." If you know where you want to be for your higher education degree, and you are absolutely, positively sure of your choice, then applying early could be for you. In exchange for a December acceptance, students begin the application process in the early fall, making a promise to attend if accepted.

PhotoAndrew Meng is a senior at Francis Lewis High School, in New York, where between 5 and 10 percent of the 750 seniors have applied through an early decision program. His choice for early decision: Cornell University, where over 30 percent of this year's freshman class applied early. Andy says, "If it doesn't help your chances for getting into that school then I think I might apply for regular decision, because I want to see my chances for getting into any other schools." Jeffrey Spielvogel, a college counselor of 23 years, says applying early can boost a student's chance of being accepted, making it a growing trend.

PhotoIt's a trend the prestigious uptown Dalton School in New York City seems to be embracing as well. 50 to 60 percent of Dalton seniors apply early, and about two thirds get accepted. Dell Wright is certain he wants to be a freshman at Amherst College next fall, so he has applied early decision. "If I got in using regular admissions, I would have rescinded my other applications anyway. So I figured since that was the purpose of doing early decision, I only had things to gain from doing it."

Students are not the only ones who have something to gain from this process. According to Lloyd Hall, an Admissions Officer at Cornell, it is beneficial for both ends when a favorable student applies early. "It keeps you from then later on playing the game of how many students do I have to admit to fill this slot."

While early acceptance is the right path for some, there is a clincher, one that adds a segregating element, and leaves many skeptical. When a student applies early, they must understand that if accepted, they will attend that school, regardless of the financial aid package the school can offer. With tuition and other educational costs inflated these days, the amount of aid a school grants can be the deciding factor. For Giselle Torres, a senior at Francis Lewis High School, the financial compromise carries too much weight for her to apply early. "I don't want to put my parents into the situation that they have to pay this. I don't want to put myself in debt, and that's why I don't want to do this." According to Joseph Allen, Admissions Director at the University of Southern California, early decision can be demographically isolating. "The kind of process that college admissions is already favors the wealthy, the white, and the male. Who benefits? They are white, they are male, and they are wealthy. Do we really need one more device that puts the weight on their side?" Lloyd Hall agrees that there are demographic differences between the early decision group and regular admissions, citing, "students of color, especially compared to the regular decision pool, do not tend to apply via early decision as often as the majority students." What's the solution? Spielvogel recommends that students who are inflexible about their financial aid needs should reconsider the early decision option.

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