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Getting a Handle on Early Decision Options

Early Decision (or ED) is a binding early admissions process where students make a commitment to attend the college if they are accepted. This commitment includes signing an Early Decision agreement form (which your guidance counselor and parents also must sign).

When considering potential applicants, colleges tend to accept a significant percentage of students from the Early Decision applicant pool. If you look at colleges that have an Early Decision admissions option, the Early Decision acceptance rate is likely quite a bit higher than the Regular Decision acceptance rate. One reason for this is that colleges like to accept students who have indicated that they will attend if they are accepted, which helps colleges predict their yield rate (the percentage of students who will enroll if accepted). Another reason for the higher acceptance rate is that students who apply Early Decision are very committed to attending that particular school, and have done a lot of work to get their application in good shape. Early Decision can be a great way to increase your chances of acceptance at your top choice school. However, this means that you must be 100% certain that the college you are considering ED is a place you would be very excited to attend.

Students and parents should also know that simply applying Early Decision doesn’t guarantee anything. It is not going to turn a “reach” college into a “sure thing.” Instead, it will make your application a bit more competitive if the college is a “slight reach,” or a target where your grades and test scores are not too far off from the college’s averages. When in doubt, you can always talk to your guidance counselor or college coach about the best strategy for you.

Now, we will get into a few of the frequently asked questions concerning Early Decision and Early Action:

When should students reconsider applying Early Decision? 

If you are a student who truly wants to weigh their options (particularly in regards to merit scholarships) then Early Decision is probably not a great fit for you. However, Early Action (which we will discuss in a bit) may be a good route!

Can I apply Early Decision if I need financial aid?

This is a great question. What if your financial aid is not enough? How can you agree to attend a college if you don’t know how much aid you will receive? Luckily, the Net Price Calculator is a great tool that will predict potential need-based financial aid packages. This is a necessary step if you are planning on applying Early Decision anywhere and need financial aid.

Is there any way to get out of an Early Decision agreement?

Colleges do not advertise the fact that you can get out of an Early Decision agreement. However, if something serious comes up – a huge change in your family situation, a big discrepancy between the Net Price Calculator and your actual financial aid, etc – then you can request to be released from your Early Decision agreement. This is not something to be taken lightly and should only be requested in extraordinary circumstances.

What about Early Action?

Early Action can serve as a great complement to Early Decision. While you can submit only one Early Decision application, you can submit multiple Early Action applications. The biggest difference between Early Decision and Early Action is that Early Decision is a binding process, while Early Action is not. This means that if you are accepted to an Early Decision school, you are committing to attend that school. Students can also only apply to one Early Decision school, while they can apply to multiple Early Action schools. However, if you are admitted to your Early Decision college, you must withdraw all of your other applications.

Also, note that some colleges offer a “restricted” or “single choice” Early Action, which has restrictions on it. For instance, some colleges may restrict you from applying to other colleges during Early Decision or Early Action). It is always best to check on the individual college’s website to see if there are any restrictions.

As you can see, there are a lot of factors to consider when applying Early Decision or Early Action. Can I afford to attend if accepted? Do I want to commit right now? Is my application strong enough to apply early, or do I need more time to work on it? Every student’s college admissions journey is different, and it’s important to get all of these questions answered before you decide which route to take. That being said, Early Decision and Early Action represent a great opportunity in the admissions process. 

Will Geiger, Story2. Will is a veteran of the college admissions process who has read thousands of applications and successfully counseled hundreds of students through the admissions process. Story2 teaches students applying to college how to write powerful personal statements, supplemental essays, and scholarship essays. Previously, Will was the Associate Director of College Counseling at an independent school in Connecticut and a Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Kenyon College. Will is a graduate of Wake Forest University and the University of Pennsylvania.

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