Early advantages?

Our Fall Early Decision deadline is just around the corner — are you still considering?

If you’re torn over applying Early Decision to Richmond and still find yourself on the fence, here’s the long and short of it (well, the short can be found on our Early Decision page; the slightly longer follows):

The advantages of applying early are numerous. You find out sooner if you’re admitted to your first-choice college, you compete against a smaller pool of students, and (perhaps most important to many students), our admission rate in early decision tends to be higher than our admission rate in regular decision. Additionally, this year we’re reserving several $15,000, four-year scholarships called Trustee Scholarships exclusively for the top students in our Fall Early Decision pool. So if Richmond is your top choice and you’re in a position to apply Early Decision, there’s really no reason not to do so.

One of the most common questions we receive about Early Decision concerns finances. Before you commit to attending Richmond, you need to make sure it’s an affordable option. If your family is in a position to pay full room and board, this isn’t a question; but for many considering Early Decision, it is. With regard to financial assistance, there are some things you can’t count on and some things you can.

What you can’t count on: Merit-based scholarships. Richmond doesn’t have any sort of “cut-off scholarships” where you’re guaranteed a certain amount of money if you have certain test scores or grades. All of our merit scholarships involve holistic consideration, often by faculty committees, so there are no guarantees. The good news is that, unlike many of our peer institutions, we don’t disadvantage early applicants in our merit scholarship processes; we consider you equally for all of our merit-based awards, even though you’re already committed to Richmond. However, few of our scholarships are awarded before April. So if you know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you will rely on merit-based financial aid to afford a Richmond education, Early Decision may not be the best option for you.

What you can count on: Need-based financial aid. Richmond is committed to meeting 100% of demonstrated need for every student who is enrolled, so your need-based aid package is guaranteed to look exactly the same, whether you apply Early Decision or Regular Decision. We give Fall Early Decision applicants the opportunity to submit the CSS PROFILE with copies of previous year tax returns (see the Admission Timeline for further details); admitted students who did so will receive an estimated need-based aid package with their acceptance in December. (The estimate is usually very close to the actual package, but remember that you still need to apply for aid officially by February 15 with the CSS, FAFSA, and new tax returns.)

“But wait,” you say, “how do I find out about financial aid before I apply and commit to enrolling?” That’s the beauty of Richmond’s commitment to meet 100% of demonstrated need. If you have a good sense of what your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) looks like, you can reasonably expect that Richmond will make up the difference. Our Financial Aid Office recommends using the College Board’s EFC Calculator to get a sense of how much you and your parents will be expected to contribute next year. If you determine that you can afford this amount, it’s safe to count on Richmond providing the rest — with no more than $5000 in loans/work study during your freshman year — and you should feel comfortable committing under Early Decision. Our Financial Aid staff are available to help if you have any questions or need any more assistance with this. (Parents, keep in mind that the number of children you have in college can drastically impact the amount of aid for which you’re eligible!)

Another common question concerns the difference between Fall Early Decision (November 1 deadline) and Winter Early Decision (January 1 deadline). The short answer is that there’s not typically a great deal of difference. Both pools receive the special consideration that comes from committing to Richmond, and the admission rates have tended to be similar historically. That said, we never guarantee that the admission rate will be the same; there have been years where Winter Early Decision is slightly more competitive that Fall Early Decision (but still not nearly as competitive as Regular Decision).

So why wait for Winter Early Decision? Some students simply decide a little bit later that Richmond is their first choice school. Others want to take a standardized test again and hope to improve their scores, or for some other reason believe their application will be more competitive if they wait until January. Still others fall into what I call the “clear second choice” category — if not admitted to their first-choice school during early decision or early action in the fall, they see Richmond as their clear second choice and choose to commit for that reason. These are the three main reasons I’ve encountered; but when all is said and done, Winter Early Decision tends to be a much smaller pool — most of our Early Decision students come in through Fall Early Decision.

If you have more questions about Early Decision at Richmond, feel free to post them here — or be in touch with your regional admission counselor. We want to help every student make the best decision possible, whether or not that means committing early.

If you’d like some student perspective, check out thoughts on Early Decision from two of our first-year Spider Diaries bloggers: Andrew, who applied Fall Early Decision, and Alyson, who applied Winter Early Decision.

Best of luck as you decide!

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