EA/ED Decision for my daughter

OK, so this is vaguely chance-me-ish, but not quite, so hopefully I can get some solid feedback.

Daughter is a HS Senior, debating application decisions. September ACT results came back significantly stronger than previous results, so have somewhat upended previous thinking, making some reach/high reach schools more realistic, IMO.

Basics: ACT 33, wGPA 4.39, uwGPA 3.85, HS does not rank, but she’s probably top 2%-3% or so, at a large-ish, suburban, good (but not the best in the area) HS. Activities - probably solid but not mindblowing. Not a URM. Lots of AP classes with a mix of 4s and 5s on the tests taken, so far. No SAT subject tests, and doesn’t really want to take them (took practice of one a bit over a year ago and did poorly).

Reach(ish) schools: WUSTL (Washington University), Northwestern, Rice, Penn
Match/safety(ish) schools: Tulane, Tulsa

There are some other even safer schools on the list, and probably at least one more match. She’ll have the gamut reasonably well covered. The dilemma is about the reach-ish schools, and specifically where she should play her EA/ED card.

She would prefer one of the top 4 schools. Current plan is to go into research (neurobiology/brain science/psychology), and research opportunities are probably stronger at those top schools, plus the name brand is stronger for grad school and beyond.

Previous thinking had been ED for WUSTL. Reasons: She did a summer research program there this summer, had a good relationship with one of the professors - expects (or possibly has already received) a nice recommendation there. Liked the school. Has a weak legacy link (Grad degree by grandfather and I think some other even weaker legacy links).

Prior to the recent ACT, she’d had a significantly lower score, and we thought she kinda had to go ED to have a real shot at WUSTL (or any of the other top choices). We also thought that because of the research program in particular (and the professor connection), her chances at WUSTL were probably best.

With a better ACT score though, have come some second thoughts. She did Duke TIP at Rice a while back and liked the school a lot (no other hooks there though). She’s visited Northwestern and likes it (Grandfather undergrad legacy and a cousin attending - not sure if that matters much). Neither she (nor I) have visited Penn, but other Grandfather went to med school there (so again, a legacy connection, albeit of uncertain value), and I think there’s a certain “Ivy” magic of it for her.

We’re in the Midwest, close to WUSTL. She’s lived here all her life, and there’s a certain wanderlust of going to school far (or farther) away, but also a certain intimidation factor about very top level, hyper-competitive schools, etc.

College thinking has drifted a fair amount over the last ~18 months, both what schools she’s most interested in (at one point Michigan was basically her #1, now it’s basically off her list) and what direction she’ll take (she is strong in art, interested in it and thought about it for college, but I think got a little more practical about career paths over time, and the neurobiology/psych interest, which had already been there, strengthened). Obviously, the time for college choices is approaching rapidly, and even if there’s more time for her study/major path to be tweaked down the line, she seems to have zero-ed in on this area. I think all 4 offer majors in the right general area, but she’s more on top of that than me.


Anyways, the bottom line is:

  1. I think, but am not certain, that for WUSTL, ED is a major boost, and combined with the other WUSTL hooks, she’d have a pretty good shot there. But if she only applies RD to WUSTL, I think her chances are significantly hampered.

  2. I think, but am not certain, that for Rice, Northwestern, and Penn, ED might be a significant boost, but I’m less confident of these. I think even with any ED boost, these are less likely than WUSTL, but none of them are pure moonshots - she’d have a chance.

  3. I think that if she picks one for ED and doesn’t get in (or doesn’t apply ED anywhere), she’d still have a shot in the RD round, but there’s a fair chance she’d miss out on all 4 RD. Tulane or Tulsa or another school as a fallback are reasonable, but still…

  • Note - I've generally said ED here - obviously need to dive into exactly which ones are ED, EA, etc, and the particulars of their requirements.

It’s well known (because the university explicitly says so) that it’s easier to get into Penn by early decision than regular decision. But Penn is probably the most selective of her reach schools, and it recommends that applicants take two SAT Subject Tests.

By the way, all the schools you’ve listed as reach(ish) are genuine reaches. For everybody.

If the college considers “level of applicant’s interest” (see its common data set, section C7, or its admissions tab on collegedata.com ), then ED is presumably helpful, as it is the strongest possible way of expressing interest beyond merely applying.

Note that “level of applicant’s interest” can also be important for schools that may appear to be “safeties” by stats, since some of them do not want to admit “overqualified” applicants who appear to be using them as “safeties” since they are unlikely to attend if they do not otherwise show a high level of interest (Tulane is in this category).


Any financial constraints?

Finances are not a driving factor (thankfully).

My opinion since finances are not an issue!

Unless your daughter has a VERY clear number one preference…don’t have her apply ED. By doing so…she would need to take an offer of admission to THAT school if accepted…and all the others come off the table. If she is waffling even a little…apply RD to give her the option of having choices amongst a lot of good choices.

If there is a non-binding EA option…perhaps do that…because again…the other schools can still be considered.

I don’t see anything in your above post that indicates your daughter has ONE preference over all the others.

I would not do ED at Penn if she hasn’t visited. I would say that for any college one hasn’t visited.

The legacies you mentioned aren’t true legacies when it comes to admissions btw.

Most schools say that legacy is undergrad only, and applies to parents. While it is exciting that her score came up, I don’t think a 33 would change the strategy, as those schools are reaches for everyone, including her. I’d stick with the WUSTL ED approach, if she really does love it, and have some non-binding EA apps submitted so that she is admitted somewhere, early, in the event she is deferred at WUSTL.

I think WUSTL is her best chance and personally think it’s the best choice for her stated interest. My D consider all 4 of your reach schools. She thought the Philosphy-Neuroscience-Psychology program at WUSTL was the most interesting of the 4 especially as someone looking to go into research and not Med school. Last summer she did the Neuroscience Institute at UPenn so she’s very familiar with it. She visited NW and Rice including an overnight program at Rice. She ended up not applying to NW.

Schools seem a bit cagey about legacy hooks - we’ve got a long-ish list of somewhat distant legacy connections to WUSTL, because apparently their application asks for even these distant connections.

So we’ve got generally weak legacy connections (with questionable, but possible) value at WUSTL, Northwestern, Penn.

We’ve got the possibility of some boost (of unknown magnitude) at whichever one she applies to ED.

And there’s the underlying certainty of her admissions chances among these schools generally. As a crude example, if her chances at WUSTL are 40% ED, 20% RD, and her chances at Penn are 15% ED, 5% RD, that might influence her application strategy. Of course, we don’t know the chances with any degree of specificity - but I guess I’m grasping for some kind of vibe on them.

I also suspect Penn is more of a reach than WUSTL. No, she hasn’t visited Penn. If her chances at Penn, ED, were high enough, then perhaps we’d arrange a quick visit on some weekend, soon, before the ED deadline. But it would be a bit of a scramble to pull off.

Again, the higher ACT score kinda upended her/our thoughts and we’re just working through whether we should change the previous plan…


She and I had a conversation a couple of days ago - she was very uncertain about the 4 schools in general. Things are kind of blending together in her mind, and she’s not sure about what the real differences between the schools are, besides location, physical amenities and the like are. We’ve got some college guide books, we can look at websites, etc., but she’s just kind of overwhelmed. She’s spent a lot of time on the WUSTL and Rice campuses, but in the summer, when regular student populations were low. We saw Northwestern on a tour, spring break of 2016, but for me anyways (and I’d guess for her), it’s a little fuzzy now…

@Dolemite - Thanks - good info from your daughter’s/your experiences.

FWIW, med school is not out of the question, but for now anyways, the thinking is more about a research path rather than a med school path…

Especially not Penn. She needs to see the campus and the area. It appeals to some people but not others.

I disagree. Your daughter doesn’t have to have a clear number one preference. She just has to be 100% willing to attend her ED school. If she has any doubts about her willingness to attend that school, she should not apply ED.

Parent of a WashU Class of 2021 student here. The 33 would probably get your daughter into WashU if she applied ED. For Penn, Northwestern, and Rice, it might be low. Rice likes high standardized scores and 34+ ACT would make it a low reach. For now it would be a reach.

Would BU and USC be potential schools to add to the list? I might consider Case Western and Emory as well.

@Marian this is from the wash U website. Even THEY say…it should be the students number one choice.

@MWDadOf3 you have mentioned that the four top schools are sort of blurring together…which sounds to me like all would be fine…and none are clear number one contenders.

I do agree that your daughter has likely a better chance of cceotance at Wahs U than the others…but I think that would be the case RD as well.

She just needs to understand that an ED acceptance pulls ALL of the other schools OFF THE TABLE for consideration…and she will be attending that ED school. If she is at all unsure about the college choice…or even mentions wanting a choice come May…ED is not a good option for her.

As someone mentioned before you should have 2 SAT 2 tests for Penn. I live across the river from Penn and it’s way different from WashU and NW. Never been to Rice but I assume it’s similar to those 2. You should visit before applying ED there.

OK, daughter home from school - excited about rep visit from Tulsa today. But then I (sometimes out of touch dad) was told that in fact she had already launched the process with her H.S. to apply ED to WUSTL. She doesn’t have the app completed and sent yet, but it basically looks like ED for WUSTL.

Thanks to all for the comments.

@thumper1, I know that’s what schools say. I just don’t agree with it.

Some students simply don’t have a clear number one choice. They may know what type of college they would like, but they may think they would be equally pleased to attend several different schools that fit that description. I see no reason why a student like this should miss out on the possible advantages of ED.

Students are choosing colleges here, not spouses. They don’t have to be in love. They just have to fully understand what ED means and be willing to follow through on the commitment they have made.

I think a bloom where planted kid can be happy doing ED at a school that is not a clear first choice. I think a lot of kids (and parents) get bullied into doing ED out of fear. My younger son almost applied ED to a school which ended up being his last choice among the schools he applied to. Thankfully he decided to go the EA route instead. When he got into that school (which was a reach school) suddenly he had a great safety!

@mathmom said it better than I did. Thank you.

If you like WUSTL, check out Case Western Reserve University as well.