Counting the Costs of Applying ED in the NESCAC

By CHRISTINE McDOW

For students for whom strolling across grassy beaches sipping hot apple cider in the crisp autumn breeze is their ideal college experience, attending a NESCAC school might fulfill their fantasy. Thus, the carrot of the admissions advantage offered by early-decision admissions programs may be too tantalizing to resist. Yet, it is well documented that only select groups of students, athletes and legacies with mediocre academic records, truly stand to benefit from Early Decision (ED) programs. ED programs were really designed for the convenience of institutions, rather than students. 

ED admissions artificially deflate the acceptance rates at NESCAC schools.”

Historically, ED programs were designed by small liberal arts colleges in the 1950s to trap the best students in a binding agreement before those students could apply to Ivy League schools. Considering that the projected Regular Decision (RD) admissions yield is about 25% at most NESCAC schools, in the absence of ED admissions, NESCAC schools would likely need to double and in some cases quadruple their acceptance rates in order to successfully fill their incoming classes. Thus, ED admissions artificially deflate the acceptance rates at NESCAC schools, boosting their selectivity index and positions in the journalistic rankings of American colleges. 

Considering this history, it is not surprising that as of April 2018, the ED programs at Amherst, Bates, Colby, Hamilton, Middlebury, Wesleyan, Williams and Tufts are all under Department of Justice investigation. Whether ED programs are an entirely ethical practice in United States higher education is debatable. ED programs are remarkably absent from admissions programs outside North America. With the deadline for ED II admissions as well as RD admissions at NESCAC schools fast approaching, here are a few points of consideration to muse over while deciding whether to apply to NESCAC colleges ED or RD, if at all. 

Before applying ED in the NESCAC, students should consider these and other social, emotional and financial costs. Although most colleges profess a commitment to student mental health, many colleges will only counsel students with short-term needs that can be resolved in a brief time frame, with some schools limiting students to as little as three free counseling sessions. All colleges are required to withdraw Title IV federal funds from students not meeting Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) requirements, but some NESCAC schools discretionarily withdraw institutional aid from students with low GPAs. 

All colleges are required to comply with and accommodate students under the Americans with Disabilities Act, yet students needing to take a semester off or a ninth semester for reasons related to mental or physical health may face challenges both bureaucratic and financial. Although written policies on taking a semester off vary, a residential life director or commons dean may hold the power to deny a student’s request to leave mid-semester or take a semester off. In addition, taking a semester off or ninth semester may prove especially challenging for students with financial need since NESCAC schools overwhelmingly restrict financial aid to eight semesters, only providing ninth semesters of aid under extenuating circumstances. 

All NESCAC schools except Connecticut College, Trinity, Tufts and Wesleyan are need-blind. Regardless, there is no common definition of what need-blind means in practice. Even need-blind schools can use unorthodox means, such as considering parent occupation and high school prestige, to become unofficially aware of a student’s financial means. So, at the very least it may behoove students from middle- and low-income families to leave the box on the Common App indicating an intention to apply for financial aid unchecked.

The answers to questions about these hidden costs of college are not readily available through journalistic rankings, institutional promotional literature or campus tours.”

Most NESCAC schools claim to meet a student’s full financial need, yet individual colleges determine whether students can use outside scholarship to cover additional costs such as annual health insurance or the one-time purchase of a personal computer. In special cases, individual colleges may even match outside scholarship earned through service in AmeriCorps dollar-per-dollar.

Any student awarded work-study based on their FAFSA would be able to apply for on-campus jobs early at most colleges. Yet, the amount of hours a student might need to work in a given week may vary drastically depending on a specific college’s student pay rate ranging from $10 to $15 per hour. Notably, although compensation for resident assistant positions ranges from $2500 to $6500 per academic year, not all NESCAC schools provide RAs with free housing. For low-resource students, the presence and accessibility of textbook libraries, winter coat closets and medical emergency funds may significantly decrease financial stress.

The answers to questions about these hidden costs of college are not readily available through journalistic rankings, institutional promotional literature or campus tours. To get the answer to these questions, you may have to pick up the phone or even sit down face-to-face with staff and students outside the admissions office. Although these costs may be trivial to students from families in the top one percent (as much as a fifth of NESCAC students), to students from families in the bottom 60 percent (as little as a 10th of NESCAC students) these unanticipated costs may prove to be taxing on their overall college experience. Transferring in the sophomore fall is an option for ED students who find their school is a poor fit, but poor mental health and financial difficulty may make reapplying to college difficult. Thus, before applying ED to a NESCAC school, carefully count the costs.

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Counting the Costs of Applying ED in the NESCAC