While early decision offers a generous admissions boost at Penn, the financial commitment it involves may turn away some top applicants.
Because early decision is a binding agreement, students who are accepted to schools early must commit before they receive their financial aid packages. Early action, which is not binding, offers more financial freedom, allowing students to compare packages after they are accepted to multiple schools in the regular round.
At Penn, applying early decision confers a significant advantage — this year, the early decision acceptance rate was 24 percent, compared to the overall acceptance rate of only 9.9 percent, which was announced on Tuesday. However, for students seeking financial aid, applying early also carries a significant risk.
“You’re taking a bit of a gamble as well on financial aid, in the sense that you’re not going to be able to play the schools off against each other,” AdmissionsConsultants President David Petersam said. “That card’s going to be taken out of your deck if you were accepted early decision.”
And although students who do not receive enough aid from their early decision schools can technically break the binding agreement, the process is a difficult one.
“There is an out from early decision — it’s not an easy one to exercise,” Petersam added.
Dean of Admissions Eric Furda believes that Penn’s financial aid policy is fully able to meet the needs of students who are accepted early. “You can apply to as many places as you want. If you’re qualifying for aid, you’re qualifying for aid,” he said. “We have one of the best financial aid policies in the country.”
College freshman Rita Wegner, who applied early decision to another school, was deferred and ultimately accepted regular decision to Penn. She said that she did not take the binding aspect of early decision lightly.
“I was willing to take the risk and potentially take on more loans myself and work extra hours at my service job,” she said. “I didn’t want to deprive myself of that because of my family’s financial situation.”
However, Wegner believes that Penn provides better financial aid than the school to which she originally applied early. “I’m actually really lucky I was deferred and ultimately accepted into Penn,” she said.
But College freshman Stephanie Alexiev, who applied early decision to Penn, was disappointed when she received her financial aid package.
“When I got in and I got my package, it was not quite as good as I would have preferred,” she said. “I thought it would be more affordable.”
Alexiev added that she wished Penn had been more transparent about how much aid it planned to provide prior to the application deadline. She has had to take out more loans than she had planned, she said. “We didn’t really get an estimate before ... When I was applying, I thought it would be fine.”
Even though the early decision policy has the potential to turn away students who cannot make the necessary financial commitment, it is very successful in attracting students who are passionate about Penn. For the Admissions Office, it is a trade-off worth making.
“I think Penn should consistently stay early decision,” Furda said.
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