Senior Joe Zales explains his views on the early admission process to junior Larkin Barnard-Bahn (right of Zales) and seniors Alex Rogawski, Chardonnay Needler and Kyra LaFitte. (Photo by Jacqueline Chao)

Seniors discuss pros, cons of applying early, how to cope with receiving decisions

Twenty-six of 32 seniors polled Oct. 11 said they were applying to colleges either early action (EA), a nonbinding application with an earlier deadline, or early decision (ED), a binding decision. Students also can apply restricted early action (REA), allowing them to apply early action to only one school. In early application rounds, students can be accepted, rejected or deferred (meaning colleges consider them in their regular decision applicant pool).

Five seniors who applied early met for a roundtable Dec. 20 to discuss their experiences applying ED, EA and/or REA: Jacqueline Chao (deferred REA to Yale); Kyra LaFitte (accepted EA to Loyola Marymount, Santa Clara, Pepperdine and Gonzaga); Chardonnay Needler (deferred EA to the University of Chicago); Alex Rogawski (accepted ED to Brandeis and applied EA to Purdue, Tulane, Fordham, Colorado, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Oregon and Maryland); and Joe Zales (accepted ED to Harvey Mudd and applied EA to Case Western Reserve, Santa Clara and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

Q: Why did you apply ED or EA? 

Rogawski: I did ED because I knew for a while that (Brandeis) was my top school, and I wanted to tell them that I was really committed. I thought it would boost my chances slightly.

I applied to a lot of state schools EA, and the (EA) admission rates are significantly higher. Some don’t even consider merit scholarships for (people applying) regular decision. 

Needler: I applied EA because my dad forbade me from doing schools ED because of financial aid. If you apply to somewhere ED, you have to go, and the school might not give you as much financial aid as (it would) if you applied regular decision because they know you have to go. 

There are some exceptions, of course, if you just cannot afford it. 

LaFitte: I applied EA because I wanted to hear my results from colleges early. I applied early to find out if I had to worry about other schools.

Zales: (My story) is a little different because I was recruited (for swimming). For the most part, schools want you to apply ED or EA so they can build their team. 

MIT and Harvey Mudd were my top choices, but I knew I was going to be happy at Harvey Mudd, and I thought I had a better chance of getting in there over MIT. Plus, it’s 100 times warmer. 

Q: If you submitted extra materials, what were they?

Zales: I submitted a research portfolio. At MIT, you (use) Slideroom, which is how most portfolios go through. It was another two essays on what your research is, what you’ve been learning from your research and how you’re going to continue doing research at your university. 

Then Dr. (Robin) Altman, the professor I’m doing research for, wrote a recommendation to go along with it, and I submitted it along with my application.

Needler: I submitted some music. One was a recording of the chamber group from last year, which was not the best song choice because it was a chamber group and not just me. But unfortunately, the piece I wanted to submit wasn’t recorded in full, and to re-record I’d have to hire a piano accompanist, and that’s like 80 bucks.

I also like to translate songs, so I sang a song that I translated. I looked on the UChicago website about what to do. Some schools — like Middlebury College — want standard music, but UChicago doesn’t want that. So I wanted to do stuff that they might not find other places. 

Q: How do you think attitudes have changed toward applying early, and how will they change in the near future?

Zales: More people will apply early. More people are applying early. When talking to people who applied 10 years ago, it seems like you only applied early if that was your dream school since you were a little child and you were a third-generation (legacy) at that school. 

With more people applying to more colleges, applying early is a way to show that you’re interested. There are way fewer people applying early at most schools than there are applying regular. At Harvey Mudd, there were 217 people who applied early decision versus the 4,000 plus who are going to apply regular. 

Rogawski: And college admissions, especially recently, have gotten exponentially more competitive. There’s no way to tell if you’re going to get in. 

Q: Did you use any websites during the application process or while you were waiting for the results?

Needler: Yeah — it becomes an obsession. It’s really easy to go onto College Confidential and r/applyingtocollege (on Reddit) and find tons of articles. Also, r/chanceme (a subreddit in which users post GPAs, SAT/ACT scores and activities to have an idea if they will get accepted to certain schools) — don’t go onto that one. That makes you feel like absolute crap. 

It’s not healthy, but it’s very addictive. Because of the way that smartphones are, you can just keep on scrolling. 

Zales: But I also feel like it’s hard to browse because you have people who are like, “I had a perfect SAT score, and I got rejected.” And then you also have people who talk about how they’ve written three books and started their Fortune 500 company — that’s sarcasm. As you’re applying, that’s hard to look at and be like, “I’m up against these people.”

Chao: And on Reddit, some of the posts are pretty relatable. After I got deferred by Yale, I went to the Yale thread. There were a lot of acceptances, of course. There were also a bunch of people who got deferred and were sharing their stats. And there are people who had really good stats and still got deferred or even rejected. It offered me some sort of comfort. 

Q: Did it induce stress?

Chao: Yeah, it was stressful when people were like, “I work at this really elite research program, (and) I published three research papers in Science or Nature.” 

And it’s just like, do I even have a chance? Why am I doing this?

Zales: I went through and looked at last year’s threads of the places I was applying to, and I looked at people who got rejected and accepted. 

It’s hard to look at other people and know if what they posted is true or not, first off. It was stressful.

Needler: And there’s a lot of humble bragging on these (threads) that really make you feel like s—. Especially on the last day that I went on r/applyingtocollege, which was when I got deferred. There were all these people on there saying, “I got in with a 3.6 (GPA) and a 1460 SAT. I got in ED. You can do it too!” 

When it starts to become a humble brag that’s like, “I didn’t have amazing extracurriculars, and I didn’t do all this,” you’re thinking to yourself, “Are you leaving out something? Why do you have the urge to rub your mediocre stats in the faces of people who felt that they were at least within a target (range), and they’re (rejected or deferred)?” 

Zales: It’s not healthy.

Chao: I don’t know if you guys do this, or if it’s just me, but I would look up college decision videos on YouTube.

Needler: I didn’t look at the reaction ones, but I looked at some where people read aloud their essays of what got them into some schools.

This one girl compared oranges with nihilism and Nietzsche. It made me feel very dumb. 

Rogawski: But you shouldn’t care about somebody else’s essays. 

Needler: You’re going against them.

Rogawski: But essays are hard to compare because you’re talking about yourself.

Q: How did you feel when you learned you were accepted or deferred?

Rogawski: Relief. Because I told everybody (that I had applied to Brandeis ED) — everybody knew. So that’s also a big factor. I really want to get in so I can be that person who says, “I got in.” 

I was stressing about it the week before. The entire day, that was the only thing I could think about. Then, to know I got in, I was really excited.

Chao: After I submitted my application, I (had) a really great interview, and I felt like I did everything I could with my application. So there wasn’t really anything that (made me feel) like, “Oh, God, I wish I had done this.”

The decision came out around 2 o’clock, so I was in math. I felt my phone buzz, and I was like, “Oh, crap — that’s the email.” I was freaking out for the next 20 minutes. 

I actually FaceTimed my mom. It was really early, like 6 a.m. in China. I checked it, and I got deferred. I just hung up immediately because I felt so bad because I felt like for her it was a real disappointment. I just didn’t want to face her after getting deferred. 

It isn’t even that big of a deal — it’s Yale. They rejected like 30 percent, so I’m not in that bottom pile. I saw that coming, but it was still pretty hard. There’s always part of you that will be like, “Oh, maybe I’ll get in. Maybe they’ll play me the ‘Bulldog’ song (that is played for accepted students).”

Zales: The Harvey Mudd decision came out at 6 p.m. on Dec. 14, and swim practice started at 6 p.m. So I was sitting in a Starbucks in Davis, using their Wi-Fi. I told the coach I was going to be 10 minutes late. 

I checked the decision, and I got accepted. And there was this (feeling of), “Yay, I got accepted!” I texted a few people, and then I rushed off to practice. Then after practice, I let other people know. 

But there was this moment when I logged in at 6 (p.m.), and nothing was there. It was like, “Thank you for applying.” And I went, “Oh, my God.” Then I refreshed the page, and I got accepted. And there’s confetti (on the page). But there was that moment of panic when nothing came up. And then there was that excited (moment), and I was off to swim.

LaFitte: LMU was kind of driving me nuts because that was probably my top one out of all the early action ones, but I didn’t want to do ED because I was borderline there. I was in the car before the decision came, (complaining) to my mom about it. Then she texted me after I got back from running, saying, “I think you should check the portal. It could be any day now.”

So I checked the portal, and an update had literally just been released. I opened it, and it had the confetti. I was talking to people, and I went, “Oh, my God.” They were like, “What happened?” I was really happy. 

I told a bunch of people, but after that day I tried to keep it kind of on the low because there were other people in my class who had applied (there).

Needler: I found out so frickin’ late: Monday (Dec. 17). (UChicago’s emails) all go to my spam box, so I don’t get alerts for them. I never got the email alert. 

A lot of people were like, “Chardonnay, you’ve got to check it!” I didn’t want to check it at school. I didn’t even know that (UChicago) deferred that many people. I was expecting either rejection or acceptance, and I had made many bets with different people between those two conditions because I like making bets. 

I lost my backpack and couldn’t find my computer, (and) I had wanted to check it around 2. Eventually I found my backpack, got my computer out, ran to the recording studio and checked it during physics. 

I wanted to call my dad in case I got straight-up rejected because I probably would’ve cried. I had my dad on the phone, and my computer died right after (I read the email). 

At first I was kind of happy because I thought to myself, “Well, a deferral is not a rejection. Deferral means that there is some possibility next round.”

Then I went home, and I started going to r/applyingtocollege — which I shouldn’t have done, especially because I had a cello lesson later. I saw the immensity of people that got deferred and how (UChicago) barely rejected anyone. They also barely accepted anyone from EA. They accepted a lot of people ED.

A lot of your friends and teachers want to encourage you. I sent my essays to some people, and they were like, “Oh, my God, yeah. These are so good.” You want to hear it in that moment. But then when the big moment comes, you have that encouragement in the back of your head. 

I wasn’t sad for myself because I didn’t get in. I was sad, because I’m like, “People were thinking that I was going to get in, and I let down people. I let down people that know me.” And that’s worse than letting yourself down. The more time went on, the more sadness came.

Q: What should people know before applying ED or EA?

Zales: Make sure it’s a school you want to go to, especially for ED.

LaFitte: I didn’t do ED because there’s no school I really want to go to (above all others). For EA, if you really want to find out (early), then do that. But it’s kind of a long process, so just be prepared to write college essays for hours upon hours.

Zales: Also, the personal statement questions haven’t changed for a while. You should really start that over the summer. 

Chao: (Being deferred) was so harsh, so have a friend or someone with you. I didn’t think I would want to check it with anyone else there, but have a support system.

Q: For those of you who were deferred, do you regret applying EA or REA?

Needler: I honestly regret not doing ED because I feel like for EA, it’s kind of like you’re applying regular decision in terms of how admissions people look at you. 

Chao: I think for UChicago it’s different because they offer ED, and you chose EA. So that’s kind of showing them you’re not completely committed. Yale didn’t offer ED, but if they had, I wouldn’t have applied (early).

Needler: And I should have spent more time researching colleges, so I could have a school that I wanted to go to above all else. 

I knew that I really liked Pomona, but I knew that my dad didn’t want me doing ED (there). And I feel I should have convinced my dad to (let me) apply ED to one of my top schools because it definitely helps.

Chao: I agree. I should have done more research. But I think with Yale, and with a lot of colleges (that offer REA), it’s great that it’s not binding, but it also kind of sucks because you can apply to only one college. Now that I’m cramming, grinding out my supplements for my regular decision colleges, I think I should have either applied just EA or really, really researched more and found a school that I would be happy to go to and applied ED. 

But EA might have been better than REA (for me). I think (REA is) a good way to show you’re interested, but Yale is definitely not the only school that I would want to go to.

Needler: I thought that the sadness would just kind of strike and then be gone. But it’s more nefarious than that. I have become so unmotivated in all my classes, because it’s like, what’s the point? 

Chao: That’s a really big part of it. Even if you’ve been prepared for it, it will hit you hard. 

It’s easy to look back at your application and think about what you have done wrong or like, “Maybe I should have joined this club when I was a sophomore. Maybe I should have started something. Maybe I should have written a book.” It’s easier said than done, but try not to let this control you too much because it is in no way a reflection of you as a person (or) as a student. 

Especially this year, a lot of people who I thought would get in got deferred. That’s OK because they’re still great students and great people. 

Needler: I obsessed (over the internet) so much. Just don’t. I didn’t find out that much — you can’t hack into (univerities’) systems. 

Also, I wish I did what Alex did. I wish I had found some schools that were middle tier for myself and then applied EA, so I wouldn’t be just so done with everything right now. And I could just feel like, “OK, you know what? At least I’m in somewhere.” I should have applied early to some targets or safeties. 

Rogawski: Apply to schools you could see yourself at. Every school I applied to, I would have been fine (at). Don’t just apply to a school because like, “Oh, well, I have to find a safety. I’m just going to apply to this school because it’s easy and they don’t really have any tough essays or there’s no fee.” Apply to a school you could see yourself at, even if it’s not a great school.

Chao: And don’t apply to schools just because everyone else is. It’s a waste of money. It’s a waste of your energy. You could have used that to write (applications for) other schools. 

Last year, someone said she eliminated a lot of colleges based on their supplemental essays. At that time, I was like, “Why? That’s so ridiculous.” But that’s kind of what I’m doing. Especially with schools that have “Why (do you want to go to this) school?” essays. If I can’t come up with a legit reason, why am I applying?

Needler: I heard this last year at the freshman panel, but then I just didn’t really believe it: If you’re going to do music (supplements), do it in the freakin’ summer. Because you do not want to be scrambling. 

Chao: At least start thinking about what you’re going to talk about. There are hundreds of thousands of applicants, and they’re all writing those prompts. And it’s so easy to just blend in. Think about something that’s really unique about yourself. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but at least you will know that you tried your hardest. And you’ll have more fun writing it anyway. 

Q: Any other advice for future applicants?

Chao: Don’t underestimate your workload (in senior year). It’s going to be a lot. I was so naive going in. I was all excited. I was like, “Yeah, let’s go! AP Bio, AP English, AP Calc BC, (Anatomy and) Physiology, AP Physics C!” And right now I’m just like, “Oh, what am I doing?”

I absolutely love every single one of (my classes), but also they’re so much work. If you want to have a life, really think about (your classes). If you got deferred, they’re going to look at your first-semester grades. You want those to look pretty. 

Needler: You’re either going to be killing yourself, or you’re going to be killing your transcripts. 

Rogawski: Try not to stress. You’re going to go somewhere. At the end of your four years at college, it’s what you make of that experience.

Chao: Honestly, don’t feel pressure to tell anyone where you applied. It’s none of their business. The most horrible part about getting deferred is having to tell all those people.

Needler: Amen.

Chao: For juniors: No matter how much you prepare, (rejection or deferral) is still going to come as a shock. It’s going to be hard. 

Needler: Or if you’re even (accepted). There’s a type of acceptance guilt that some people feel if (they’re accepted and someone else isn’t). Don’t doubt yourself and think that it’s easy if you get in, either. Even if you’re accepted, that doesn’t mean that emotionally you’re going to be chill during this situation because then you’re going to be trying to support other people. 

Rogawski: Be sensitive to your classmates.

Needler: And be sensitive to yourself. Don’t be too harsh on yourself.

Chao: If you apply to the same school as someone else, and they got in and you didn’t, don’t go around thinking, “Oh, my God, this guy totally does not deserve this.” Don’t be salty, and don’t be too harsh on yourself. 

You really don’t know what (colleges are) looking for because they’re trying to build a class. This is what (senior) Mohini (Rye) told me: If I had applied a different year, I might have gotten in. 

Rogawski: It’s so competitive these days that you really don’t know. It’s impossible to tell.

By Larkin Barnard-Bahn

Originally published in the Jan. 15 edition of the Octagon.

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