We are in the midst of early admissions season. College admissions has become a complex cycle; instead of a single application deadline for all, hundreds of schools have introduced “early” admissions, allowing students to apply several weeks before the traditional January deadline.

There are two varieties: Early Decision applicants agree to attend the school if they are admitted; the college, in turn, gives the applicant some preference in admissions. Early Action, favored by a few of the most elite schools, is not binding, and the student is free to go elsewhere.

Virtually every top university allows students some early admission option. Harvard recently returned to early admissions, after a brief absence. Early admissions raise ethical questions, because the accelerated schedule forces students to make a difficult choice without all the facts. (Students who decide early lose the chance to see what other offers of admission and aid they might eventually receive.)

St. Lawrence University, a selective liberal arts school in Canton, N.Y., seems to be among the first schools to experiment with yet another form of early admissions. Jeff Rickey, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid, describes it today in a guest post.

Acronyms are part of the college and financial aid process: AP, WL, SAT, ACT, FAFSA, RD, EA, ED and CSS, among others. At St. Lawrence University (Canton, New York), we’ve introduced a new one and refined it in its second year: CRED — Continual Review Early Decision.

Continual Review Early Decision is a concept of providing students a choice to apply Early Decision at any time up to the Regular Decision deadline of February 1. In the past, if a student did not decide on Early Decision by the published deadline (this year November 1) the earliest he or she would know the decision was the middle of March.

At St. Lawrence, many students visit campus after November 1 and decide SLU is their first choice. Instead of making them wait to hear from us until the middle of March, we developed a plan that allows students to apply Early Decision at any time up until our Regular Decision deadline of February 1. Students declare their Early Decision intentions by completing and submitting the Early Decision contract, and, once that is received and the admissions application is complete, the application is evaluated and the student is notified, usually within a couple of weeks of completion.

CRED takes away some of the pressure for students having to make decisions before they are fully informed. Many students hear earlier than they would have in the past, and some — those offered Early Decision admission — no longer need file applications elsewhere.

St. Lawrence is able to offer CRED because during Early Decision, students are evaluated on their own merits without concern about the number being offered. During Regular Decision, students are evaluated on their own merits, but they are also all being compared to the overall applicant pool and choices are being made within the Regular Decision pool to yield the optimum size class.

CRED is credible and incredible for students and is consistent with the principles practiced in the St. Lawrence Admissions Office.

Related story:

Admissions 101: Is early decision here to stay?