I just got off the phone with a mother who called me after finding her daughter up at 2 AM pondering whether she's going to apply to UVa under the early decision plan. She's a smart girl in an IB program here in Virginia. She's sure to have plenty of colleges interested in her, but she's scared that she must apply early to UVa to have a chance in the process due to what she perceives to be low standardized testing and a GPA just shy of the top of the class.
Some critics of Harvard, Princeton, UVA and Delaware's move to do away with early admission say that one of the reasons (lessening stress) is foolish. They say that the college search is stressful anyway and that doing away with early admission just pushes the stress back two months. They seem to be ignoring the stress of the order of the process.
The traditional college search can be seen as a number of steps.
1. A large list of potential schools is drawn up using guide books, internet searches, and meetings with counselors.
2. Mom, Dad and the student embark on a whirl wind college tour, visiting so many campuses in one week that schools are recalled by parking situation: the one that had the parking garage, the one that had the parking lot, and the one that had no parking.
3. Applications are organized, spreadsheets made, essays written, transcripts requested, etc. Packages are carefully handed over to the post office clerk who unceremoniously tosses it into a bin. Images of crinkled pages make Mom cringe. The wait begins.
4. Decision letters arrive from colleges. Letter carriers are stalked, online applications accounts are checked compulsively.
5. The student lays all the decision letters out on the kitchen table and mulls over choices.
6. A deposit is mailed to one lucky college.
Early admission moves the 5th step of the process up to #3. So, as students are starting the hardest academic year of their career, ascending to the leadership positions in their clubs and activities, and navigating the application process, they are also forced to make a decision that will affect the next four years of life (and the rest of life, if you think about it). This seems like a horrible time to be making such a decision, especially without knowing all the options available.
The same woman who called me talked about her son, a UVa alum, who applied early to another school, which had been his top choice. He was deferred and while hoping for an acceptance from that school, submitted regular decision applications elsewhere (including Virginia).
When decision letters came, he went for a second round of visits to schools. During those trips, he realized that UVa was the right place for him and sent his deposit in. Five months isn't a long time in the grand scheme of things, but the difference between October and April is significant in the senior year of high school.