Consider two hospitals, Hospital A and Hospital B. Over the course of a busy week, a thousand people are admitted to Hospital A and a thousand people are admitted to Hospital B. Of the thousand people who were admitted to Hospital A, three hundred of them die. Of the thousand people who were admitted to Hospital B, two of them die. Which is the better hospital?
At first glance, it appears that Hospital B has its advantages. Two is certainly a smaller number than three hundred. Were you responsible for the care of a loved one, wouldn’t you choose Hospital B? Wouldn’t you want to take your family member to the hospital where only two people out of a thousand perish? Wouldn’t you have some concerns about going to the hospital where three hundred folks out of a thousand don’t come home?
While you think about which is the better hospital, let me ask another question. This inquiry may sound snarky. You may feel like I’m playing “gotcha,” setting you up for failure and just being my usual smarty-pants self. If so, I apologize. I assure you I am asking this question with affection, in a purely eleemosynary way:
If the right answer is Hospital B—the hospital where only two people die—why are we spending all these paragraphs talking about it? And if the right answer is Hospital A—where three hundred folks go out to the cemetery—then what the heck? How can Hospital A be preferable, better in some way?
The right answer is that you don’t know. You don’t have enough information to make the correct judgement, Hospital A or Hospital B. Because you can’t talk about who comes out of your study unless you know who went in. We have to talk about the thousand people who were admitted to each hospital before we can say anything about who came out.
Suppose that the folks who went to Hospital A were in bad shape to begin with, that the folks who rolled up to Hospital A came from grievous car accidents or fell out of fourth story windows. Maybe the folks arriving by screeching ambulance at Hospital A had been shot or had survived—barely—a terrible construction incident. Whereas the people arriving at Hospital B were there for elective surgery, cosmetic procedures like Botox. If the folks at Hospital A were half dead to begin with, you would expect three hundred of them to die. Heck if their injuries were bad enough, you would expect all one thousand of them to perish. At Hospital B, I wouldn’t expect anyone to die. Elective surgery isn’t supposed to hurt anybody never mind send them home in a box. Two deaths as a result of getting rid of wrinkles sounds like two too many.
Again, you can’t talk about who comes out of your study until you know who went in.
Now let’s look at some Early Decision Data from a popular highly rejective college. I’ve rounded the numbers for the purpose of making the point explicit, but what I’m saying is completely truthful if not entirely factual. Early Decision One applicants are admitted in larger proportion than Early Decision Two applicants who are admitted in larger proportion than Regular Decision applicants.
This chart will make it easy to understand:
- Early Decision One: 20 % of applicants are admitted
- Early Decision Two: 10 % of applicants are admitted
- Regular Decision: 5 % of applicants are admitted
At first glance, it appears that my child should apply by the Early Decision One deadline. After all, 20 % is significantly better than 10 % and 20 % is tremendously better than 5 %. But again, forgive me for repeating, you can’t make an inference about who comes out of your study until you know who went it.
What if, the Early Decision One applicants are different from the Regular Decision applicants?
It’s not hard to imagine how the ED students might be different from RD kids. Maybe Early Decision applicants have the following profile:
- 3.9 unweighted grade point average
- Senior year courses including: Advanced Placement Calculus BC; AP English; AP Economics for a total of seven APs through high school
- 97th percentile norm referenced test scores
- Brilliant, articulate, insightful essays; sparkling recommendations; impressive, long range, meaningful extracurriculars including leadership and commitment.
Whereas Regular Decision kids look like this:
- 2.9 unweighted grade point average
- Senior year courses including: Pre-Algebra; Evolution of the Corduroy Suit; Hello, Mister Pronoun; and Underwater Nose Picking
- 50th percentile norm referenced test scores
- Sloppy, slap-dash, cliched essays; plebeian recommendations; no involvement in extracurriculars
Okay, I’m exaggerating to make you smile, but consider another way that Early Decision applicants might be different from regular decision students. Maybe they are more likely to be able to afford to pay tuition.
Counselors and parents might suggest that ED 1 applicants are showing demonstrated interest. An ED student will “yield”—if they are admitted, they will show up. But maybe what these applicants are communicating in addition to demonstrated interest is demonstrated moolah.
Maybe ED applicants are saying, not only will I show up if admitted, but I will also commit to paying the sticker price of the college and will accept whatever paltry financial aid is offered.
Unless you know that the populations of Early Decision and Regular Decision students are the same, you can’t make a valid inference about the reason that ED kids are admitted disproportionately over Regular Decision applicants.
One more example may drive the point home: Putting this 66-year-old author in a Miami Dolphins uniform does not suggest that I will acquit myself honorably on the gridiron next Sunday afternoon. Speaking of hospitals, I would be carried off the field in a bucket. Similarly, applying Early Decision does not necessarily make your child an Early Decision kid. If your kid doesn’t have the credentials, it doesn’t matter when they apply.
As always, who your child is means more than when your child applies or where your child attends. Having a child apply Early Decision may not communicate to the admissions committee what parents and counselors think it does. Whereas helping your child maintain the reality rather than just the appearance of ability always pays off.