When applying to colleges, students are presented with a myriad of options of how and when to apply to college, and they often wonder if they should apply to college early decision. In this article, we’ll discuss both what applying to College Early Decision entails, as well as whether or not it is the right decision for you!
But before that, let’s go over the different types of college admissions. There are more than you might expect, and it’s easy to confuse them, so it’s worth taking a second to familiarize yourself:
Different Types of Admissions
Regular Admission: The most common type of college admission. With regular admission, a college sets a single date, usually between November and January, for all applications. They then review all of them in one big group after that date. Many schools that have regular admission, also have earlier admission options. It is beneficial to think of the regular admission date as your very last day to apply to a given school.
Rolling Admission: Rolling admission is a set time period where students can apply, Schools will then review their application immediately (or very soon after) they are received. Unlike regular admission (where all applications are reviewed after an end date) rolling admission applies a first-come first-served approach, where the college will give a decision regarding admission the earlier they submit.
Deferred Admission: After being accepted, some students will defer a year if they want to take time off between high school and college. These types of admission are usually by students’ choice, but occasionally some colleges will offer deferred admission in place of regular admission if their class for a given year is full, but they still want you to attend next year.
Early Decision: What you’ve been waiting for: apply to college early decision. Early decision is the most restrictive form of admission application. Early decision means you apply to a school early, usually in November, and the admission is binding meaning, if you get in you have to go. Usually, schools require that you apply only to one school early decision, as the expectation is you will go no matter what. It’s a very bad idea to back out of a school you’ve both applied to and/or been accepted at early decision, and if you do, it can hurt your chances at other colleges (more on that later).
Early Action: Early action is the less restrictive form of early admission application. It also requires students to apply in the fall, but they do not have to commit to the school they apply to no matter what. That means you can apply to several early action schools without impunity. Be careful not to confuse Early Action with Early Decision!
Should I apply Early Decision?
The short answer? It depends. Every student’s college admission process is different, so there is no easy answer. Rather than tell you yes or no, let’s go through some pros and cons of both, and look at kind of students who should apply, as well as the kinds of students who shouldn’t.
Admission rates are slightly higher: Perhaps the main reason to apply to college early decision is that admission rates are slightly higher. Though not by a massive amount, applying early decision does improve your chances of getting into a school by on average of 6 to 8 percent.
If you get in, you’re done: That’s it! If you are accepted into a school early decision, you are officially done with the college admissions progress. Unlike your classmates, who, if they applied regular admission, may have to wait till the spring to find out where they are attending, you can spend the rest of your senior year not worried about getting into college! You are going!
Can’t compare financial aid packages: Once you’re in, you’re in. While you can back out of a school under financial circumstances (more on that later), you lose out on the chance to compare and contrast different financial aid packages with early decision admission as you are only applying to one school.
It’s a binding agreement: When you apply early decision, you are agreeing to go to that school no matter what. If you break that agreement and other colleges find out, it can seriously jeopardize your applications. Most colleges, admissions counselors, and guidance counselors pledge to a code of ethics that requires them to inform the other colleges on your list if you broke your early decision agreement.
Who should apply Early Decision:
So who should apply Early Decision? Let’s discuss a few different kinds of students that should and a few that shouldn’t:
Students Who Know Their Absolute Dream School: You’ve visited the college of your dreams and nowhere else will do. If you are absolutely, one hundred percent sure about a school, then definitely apply for early decision! But if there’s even a shadow of doubt in your mind, rethink it! Applying early decision isn’t the only way to get into a school, it only raises your chances by a measly 6 to 8 percent compared to regular decision!
Students Whose Dream School is Realistic Academically: While it may be your dream school, that school may not be realistic for your academic record. Take the time to research the kind of grades and test scores necessary to make your application competitive. If it’s too far of a reach (based on your research, and the input of your college counselor), it’s not worth the time or effort necessary to apply that early in the school year. On top of that, when you apply to college early decision, you can’t apply to other schools early action, meaning you may be wasting valuable times during your college admissions process focusing only on one school, when there are plenty of other great colleges out there you could focus on as well!
Students Who Have a Backup School in Mind With A Reasonable Application Deadline: While in a perfect world every student would get into their dream school, we all know that isn’t always the case! Students should have a contingency plan in mind in case they don’t get into their Early Decision school, meaning one or more back up schools with a regular or rolling admission process they are prepared to apply to whose due date doesn’t conflict with their early decision school. For example, if a school sends out acceptance letters January 18th, students should have completed applications for back up schools that have application deadlines after that date. Meaning, if they don’t get into their early decision school, they will still be ready to apply to more colleges.
Students whose GPA could benefit from a strong Fall Semester: College counselors will tell you students Junior year GPA is most important, and it is, but if you happened to struggle that year, it may be worth waiting to apply till Fall semester grades roll in. Having the most competitive application possible is the most important part of the college admission process, so if you think your overall GPA would benefit from another semester, it is almost always better to wait to apply with those grades.
Students who need to take the SAT or ACT again: Similarly, if a student thinks they can earn a higher standardized test score on a fall SAT or ACT, it is probably worth waiting to apply Regular or Rolling Decision. The last test score students can submit are the December tests (if they rush that score to colleges for an additional fee), so if standardized test scores are still a worry, wait, study, and test again!
Students applying to a college they haven’t visited yet: Maybe a parent went there, or you’ve wanted to go to a school since you were a kid, but if a student hasn’t visited a school, we don’t recommend applying early decision. It’s binding! While you may have a picture in your mind of what a school is like, you won’t really know till you visit!
Students who aren’t 100 percent sure of their dream school: If you aren’t absolutely certain an early decision school is for you, don’t apply! Though your chances go up with early decision, it is certainly not impossible to get in regular decision or early action. In fact, that’s how most people get into colleges! So if you aren’t absolutely certain, don’t make a decision you may regret!
Financial Aid and Early Decision:
Some quick notes on Financial Aid and the Early Decision process: we mentioned earlier that Early Decision is a binding process, meaning if you get in, you have to go there. The one exception to that rule is a monetary one. If you cannot afford a school you’ve been accepted to Early Decision, you can break your commitment to that school. However, make sure you do your research before applying. Schools are legally required to offer net price calculators on their websites that will give you a basic idea of the kind of financial aid package your family can expect. If you do get into a school and you’ve done that calculation and you still can’t afford, you can try and negotiate with the school.
In the event that you are accepted to your dream school and your financial aid is less than the Net Price Calculator said it would be, or if since applying, your family’s financial circumstances has changed and the bundle doesn’t mirror that, you can work with the school. The likely result is that the school will work with you and renegotiate your financial aid package. However, on the off chance that they don’t or cannot completely meet your needs, they will discharge you from the ED commitment. Remember though, they let you into their school, so they want you to go there! Meaning they will most likely work to meet your needs!
Deciding whether you are going to apply to College Early Decision or not is not going to be answered by a simple yes or no. A variety of circumstances add up to whether Early Decision is a good fit for you. So do your research and figure out what kind of application process is right for your needs and academic record! Our Student Success Advisors can help you determine a plan: schedule a call today!