I think one of the worst things in the college counseling arena is when you are in that spot to tell a student, “I told you so.”  I won’t say it; it really breaks my heart because “I told you so”s always come after the fact when you can’t do anything to fix the issue.  And this particular “I told you so” has to do with due dates.

I have definitely hit a new level of paranoia when it comes to due dates, and only after college counseling.  It really is true that on-time essentially means too late in these cases.

Years ago when I was applying to law school at Boalt, I met with the admissions counselors for the law school in September.  When I walked into their office, it was completely dead and a few people clicked away on their computers.  The admissions counselor said for me to take note of that.  They are super available then, can even review your application for you before you submit it.  But when you get within a month of the deadline, forget it.  Considering this was law school and not undergrad, I did some investigating into how that translates for undergrad applicants.  It’s worse.

You almost want to view your application as a credit application.  Each component is buying you more time with the admissions counselor.  They are going to review the numbers first regardless of what they’ve said and especially if they are a prestigious university.  In order for a Stanford to take a 2.0 student, that student has to be pretty extraordinary but the reality is that getting through that first gate is pretty difficult.  In the Fall, you have more time to buy from the admissions counselor.  So your weird transcript that might have something funky happening with your language requirement–you need that extra time so that they can actually read your explanation for why that was so funky.  In December, January, and hopefully not February, you have way less time to buy and therefore less time for the counselor to weed through whatever weirdness you have going on.

Let’s say you went through that first gate and they are going to read either your statement or letters.  Most students use their personal statement to show off their script-writing talents and get to the all important “why do you want to go here” part at the very end.  You’re buying time, remember?  If you only get them to buy thirty seconds, you better have said what you needed to in that first paragraph.  And if that paragraph is great, and they keep going, good on ya!  But the chances of the counselors going past that first paragraph in December, January, and February, not so likely.

I’ve said a few times that one of the most disheartening things that I’ve heard about admissions is that most students lose their admissions due to things other people have done.  Your letters of recommendation are a great example.  Some students go to schools that send 100% of their students directly to 4-year colleges/universities.  Most likely those schools are providing their teachers with letter-writing workshops.  Most public schools in the country are lucky if they are getting 25% of their students into 4-year colleges and universities directly from high school.  So I’m going to say one reason might be because of those letters.  If your transcript is looking good, your statement really shows your character, but your letters are just sort of retreads of those previous two components and not advancing your application, things aren’t looking as good for you.  But if you are submitting that application early, a weak component of your application is easier to overlook.

I was reading a few articles about this recently.  It really isn’t that the schools have a quota where they are intentionally filling more spaces in the Fall.  It’s just the time to consider the applications.  And the data is staggering.  Something along the lines of 25% of Fall applicants are accepted while 4% of those January ones are accepted.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately as the students who really listened to that piece of advice and handed in their applications early are now receiving acceptance letters from MIT, Hofstra, University of Oregon, Vassar, and Purdue and in a position to request larger financial aid packages, if they needed it.  But they don’t.  The other reality is that the earlier applications are submitted, the more likely you get more money because they have more money to give.  So these guys have full rides for the most part.  And it’s December and they’re done.  Making plans to enjoy the end of high school, finish strong, and move across the country.

Then I have clients who didn’t listen and still have applications they haven’t submitted.  A super important Physics test came up or something else that they thought was more important in the short term, so they waited and they’re still waiting.  And for some of the schools on their list, I would almost say at this point, don’t bother.  Because I’m going to absolutely hate that moment in the Spring when I’m not going to say “I told you so.”