Make Your Decision

The Facts on Early Decision

To apply early, or not to apply early? That is the question being explored by many college-bound students in the fall of their senior year. Hundreds of colleges offer early decision admissions plans, which allow applicants to apply early (deadlines for early decision are usually in early November; regular applications are usually due around January 1) and get a decision by early January.

The Benefits of the Early Decision Option
Research shows that your chances of being accepted at some colleges are better if you apply early decision. It makes sense—if accepted, the student enters into a binding agreement to attend that in the fall, thus eliminating any uncertainty on the school's part that the student will enroll. This binding system was intended for students who were absolutely, 100% certain that they wanted to attend a particular school. If you've already researched all of your options and still want to go to a particular school, this might be a good option for you.

Another criticism? When you are accepted under the early decision system, you receive only one offer of financial aid. If that offer is unacceptable to you, you can then (and only then) decline the offer of admission. But if you choose to accept, you are effectively cutting off the chance of getting a better package from another school.
That can be a huge disadvantage—one of the hidden benefits of applying for financial aid at a variety of schools allows you to play one offer over another. Thus, students who enroll under early decision tend to skew to more economically privileged students than the general regular decision population.

What's Right for You?
If you're a commitment-phobe and aren't 100% positive that you can bind yourself to that one and only school, there is a compromise that might be right for you. You can replace the early decision programs at most schools with Early Action. In place at many top schools already, including Boston College, Georgetown, and MIT, early action allows students to apply early, but doesn't bind students to the school if they're offered admission. Instead, students can wait to see where else they're accepted, compare financial aid offers, and make their decision in the spring.

Amidst this controversy, will colleges eliminate the early decision process? It's not likely. As long as there are even a few top colleges participating in the program, other schools won't abandon early decision—it would make them unable to compete effectively with other schools. But knowing what you're getting into with Early Decision can make you more competitive as well.

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