How do I know if my child is ready to apply to college ED (Early Decision)?
The decision to apply to a college using the Early Decision process is usually born of two mindsets. The first is one of clarity. The student absolutely without a doubt wants to attend that one school. They have fully vetted the school, visited the school, talked to students, pored over the college's materials and website, and determined that this is where they want to be for the next four or so years. If this is what you’re observing with your child, they well may be ready.
The second mindset is one of anxiety. The student is experiencing the stress and uncertainty of where they’ll be in college. It’s as if the decision-making process has them racing over hot coals and they just want to get to the other side as soon as possible so they can stop wondering and relax already. Under these conditions, the student may not necessarily be choosing the school they're sure they want — they’re more driven by picking a school they think they can get into so they can have the process be done with.
It doesn’t help that more and more schools, particularly elite and heavily branded schools, are selecting more of their incoming class from ED applicant pools. They do this partly for themselves, making it easier to determine housing needs and allotments, and readying their orientation process sooner and with more information about the incoming class. But if everywhere you and your student look you see pressured, racing-to-the-finish-line ED activity, it’s not easy to keep to your own pace and process intact. It produces a very contagious kind of anxiety.
It’s not necessarily a bad idea to go through the ED process even without being completely sure. The student has to weigh the burden of prolonged uncertainty and the impact that will have against the short-term relief of knowing but then being committed to a college they may feel less than certain about.
I ran your question by a dear friend who used to be in Stanford admissions and she concurred. She also recommended that the student be sure they get how big a commitment it is to apply Early Decision and to be sure they get the difference between ED and Restrictive Early Action, which is less binding.
But your question is about whether YOU know, which is a much more elusive question to answer. Because really, you can’t know. The combined realities of not being inside their heads and not being able to predict the future makes ”knowing” the magical unicorn none of us ever get to see in person. We can never know what our kids are ready for. It’s what turns our hair gray and keeps us up at night.
So in the absence of knowing and sleeping soundly, I advise you and your child take the long view of this particular life experience. Whatever happens — they go ED and attend a school that turns out to be not a winner for them, or they don’t go ED and don’t get into their first choice school — there will be joy and sorrow, satisfaction and regret, and ultimately value in every single thing they experience in life.