Do you just want to be done with the application process and know where you’re going to college? Do you have your heart set on one college, and you want to give yourself the best chance at getting in? If you answered yes to these questions, early decision may be a good option for you.
Early decision is an early application policy used by a number of different colleges. If you apply to a college under early decision, you’ll usually apply earlier than the regular admission deadline and find out earlier if you’ve been accepted. For most colleges with early decision, the ED deadline is November 1, and you’ll be notified by mid-December, whereas you’d be notified in late March or early April under regular decision. Under early decision, you can be accepted, rejected, or deferred to the regular applicant pool.
Unlike early action, which also allows students to receive admissions decisions earlier, if you apply and get accepted under early decision, you’re making a binding agreement to attend that school. You can only apply to one school under early decision, and if you get accepted, you have to withdraw your applications to any other colleges. If you break the agreement to attend, you won’t have legal action taken against you, but it’s likely that the other colleges you apply to will be notified that you broke your agreement, and your acceptances may be rescinded. Your high school will also be contacted, and future applicants from your school may be penalized. Generally, the only acceptable reason to turn down an early decision offer is if you don’t get enough financial aid.
There are a few colleges that offer two early decision application deadlines, known as Early Decision I and Early Decision II. Early Decision I has a typical early decision application deadline in November, and the application deadline under Early Decision II is in January. If you apply under Early Decision II, you’ll probably hear back in February. Some schools that offer early decision include Duke, Cornell, Brown, Northwestern, and Amherst. Colleges that offer Early Decision I and II include Pomona, Vanderbilt, Tufts, Syracuse, and Emory.
One of the biggest potential benefits of early decision is being done with the college application and selection process as soon as possible.
Applying to colleges, waiting to hear back about admissions decisions, and deciding which college to attend can cause tremendous stress for many students and their parents. If you apply early decision, you can know where you’re going to college before most of your peers are even done completing their applications. For the rest of your senior year, you can focus on school, your extracurricular activities, and having fun.
Also, you can potentially save time and money by not having to apply to more colleges. You should still prepare to apply to more colleges in the event you’re not accepted or if you’re considering applying to schools that have a regular application deadline before you’re notified of admissions decisions under early decision.
Additionally, for many colleges, you may increase your chances of gaining admission if you apply under early decision. Most colleges that offer early decision have a significantly higher acceptance rate for early decision applicants. While early decision applicants tend to be more qualified, that doesn’t account for the entire difference in acceptance rates. Colleges like to admit a large percentage of their incoming classes via early decision to have more control over the composition of their freshman classes, and early decision admits increase a school’s yield, the percentage of admitted students who choose to attend. A better yield improves a school’s image and ranking.
The biggest disadvantage of applying early decision is that you have to commit to attending a college before you may be ready to make that commitment. Typically, students are still researching colleges in the fall of their senior year, and many of the students with whom I’ve worked have changed their college preferences multiple times before eventually deciding in the spring. Even if you think you know where you want to go to college before the application process begins, if you apply early decision, you may not give yourself the opportunity to change your mind.
Another substantial disadvantage of early decision is that it doesn’t allow you to compare financial aid packages and factor them into your college decision. For students who rely on financial aid to attend college, this can be a significant disadvantage. Even though you can get a general estimate of how much a school will cost you before you apply, you won’t get your official financial aid offer until after you’re offered admission.
Finally, if you apply early at the end of November, you may have to apply before you’re able to sufficiently improve your test scores or GPA. Colleges will review your standardized test scores and transcript before the end of the first semester of your senior year. Many students are able to strengthen their applications by raising their standardized test scores in December or getting exceptional first semester senior year grades.
Early decision can be a good option for you, but only if you’ve done thorough college research and you’re certain about your number one choice. Before applying early decision, you should do ample college research, visit college campuses, and discuss your decision with your parents, teachers, or counselors. Furthermore, you should be satisfied with your current grades and exam results. It may be to your advantage to wait to apply if you need to improve your standardized test scores, or if you have subpar grades for your dream school and would like to show you’re capable of doing better. However, if you’re in this situation, you can still apply under Early Decision II, if that’s an option at your #1 choice.