Is Early Decision right for me?

The early bird gets the worm, right? Well, maybe in the great outdoors this is the case, but in the high stakes game of college admissions, early decision is not the panacea some might believe. A student with substandard scores and grades will not be admitted to Harvard just because he chose to apply early decision. So if early decision isn’t a guaranteed ‘get-in’ card, what is it good for?

Early admissions programs allow students to illustrate their deep desire to attend a certain school. This is very significant, especially these days when universities are struggling to fill their freshman classes as students renege on their acceptances for economic reasons. The most selective colleges currently admit 25% to 50% of their total students from the early admissions pool. In recent years, as many as 40% of freshmen at Ivy League schools have been early admissions applicants.

Besides appearing more attractive to schools, early admissions programs also allow students and their families more time to plan for college life and expenses, such as housing and travel as well as just tuition. Additionally, students who feel secure in their acceptance might be more inclined to take difficult or diverse classes their final semester in high school, classes that they might previously have avoided for fear of lower grades disrupting their chances at acceptance.

Benefits for schools and students abound, but beware of the binding decision. Many schools offer Early ACCEPTANCE programs. These offer students the ability to apply early and get college applications off their minds. These programs are usually NOT Binding. Students may still apply to other schools. They may even accept offers from other schools. There is no commitment from the student that she will attend the school.

Early DECISION programs are a different story. These programs are considered BINDING. Students who apply Early DECISION are expected to attend the school if they are accepted. They must withdraw all applications from other schools. Do not take this commitment lightly. Schools generally honor each others’ binding decisions. If you renege on your commitment, don’t expect to be welcomed with open arms by another competitive school.  If you have one school that you are dying to attend above all others, then you should apply Early DECISION. This lets the school know you are interested, and it also keeps you from the hassles and expenses of having to go through the application process at the other schools on your list.The main drawback to Early DECISION programs is that it keeps students from comparing and negotiating financial aid packages. What they offer is the only thing you will get.

The bottom line: Early ACTION is much more flexible than Early DECISION. If you are sure of the school you want to attend, your grades and other admissions criteria are solid, and financial aid is not a factor, then apply Early Decision. However, if you have any questions about the above, hold off and apply regular decision.

More questions? Read Jed’s in-depth article on the Early Decision.

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