Anna Vlajkovic, like many high-achieving high school students, was jubilant to finally receive the ultimate validation of all of her efforts – her first acceptance letter.
“I invented my own ‘I got into Northwestern’ dance, and did that on repeat for at least a couple of days… maybe weeks,” she said. “Then I bought a sweatshirt to celebrate.”
Vlajkovic, a senior at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Kildeer, Ill., celebrated a full two weeks before many other students had even submitted their applications.
Northwestern’s binding early decision (ED) program offers students peace of mind and a higher probability of admission in exchange for their commitment to attend the university should they be accepted.
On Dec. 15, 561 out of the 1,531 ED applicants were given acceptance letters, giving an acceptance rate of 37 percent, more selective than last year’s 43 percent rate. While the Office of Undergraduate Admission does not release information on individual applicants, many accepted students we spoke to displayed remarkable achievement in the most difficult classes their schools had to offer, with few succumbing to the temptation of an easy senior year schedule. In addition to academic achievement, many early admits displayed remarkable dedication to extracurricular activities, from sports to service.
“I laid the groundwork for extracurricular involvement early on,” said Vlajkovic, “but really didn’t build on it until junior year, when I really stepped up into leadership roles and started using my skills to launch myself into new opportunities, such as editing articles and playing with bands as a pianist.”
The desire to commit early to Northwestern if admitted were also as varied. While nearly all those interviewed agreed that the school’s impressive academics were a prime factor, there were other considerations.
“I had always had Northwestern in mind because I had heard of it extensively through debate – as you may know, it’s a ranking powerhouse in college policy debate,” said Sid Singh, of McKinney North High School in Dallas, who played soccer and debated seriously in high school in addition to serving as Lieutenant Governor for his Key Club division. “[But] the visit, for me, is what really clinched the decision [to apply early]. I visited twice – once during the summer in June and once on an overnight visit in mid-October.”
For others, it was all about location.
“I was born here and grew up here,” said Vlajkovic, one of nearly 30 percent of ED applicants who lived in Illinois. “I will always have close ties with both the city of Chicago and with the area in which I was raised… My mom went [to NU] very briefly for graduate school until I came along and cut that short. We always joked that it would be a fulfillment for her if I went to Northwestern too.”
On the other hand, Janna Kaplan, who attends Grady High School in Atlanta and who was also admitted early, was drawn by the relative lack of name recognition.
“I don’t have any family or friend connection to NU. No one I know from my school has gone there. I think that might be part of what interested me about the school because it doesn’t have a huge ‘fan base’ in Atlanta,” said Kaplan, who was involved with Mock Trial and her high school’s newspaper. “I knew that people whose applications might have been slightly more impressive than mine would be less likely to commit early to NU … any valedictorian with a 2400 would be trying his or her luck at one of the Ivies for early decision.”
Diverse backgrounds and desires aside, all these applicants share a common reward for applying to a binding early decision school.
“… [T]he elation of finally having the acceptance letter I wanted, and the prospect of a low-stress second semester, was more than enough to convince me that being bound to the perfect school isn’t remotely a burden,” Vlajkovic said.