What is Early Decision?

woman applying to college



Early decision is a serious commitment that must be discussed in depth with your young adult before hitting submit on his college application. With 450+ schools offering early decision as an option, it's tempting to up the chances of enrolling by showing that this is the school above all others that the applicant wants, but take care when choosing early decision. Some colleges have two early decision options, called early decision deadline I and early decision deadline II.

While they work the same way, the second deadline allows for a little more time to make the choice to apply early to schools that offer EDII

Early decision lets college applicants apply very early during their senior year of high school and get a thumbs up or thumbs down before the holidays - or soon after. But this type of application usually involves a binding agreement. Unlike early action, early decision means that if accepted, your teen must attend. He can still apply to other schools via regular admissions deadlines, but the moment he is accepted to his early decision school, he must withdraw the other applications. So if your child is interested in applying this way, make sure this school truly is his first choice.

Early decision is a good choice for those students who know the definitely want to attend a school that has highly competitive applicants and a low admissions rate. For example, Dartmouth College filled its class of 2018 with 42% early decision applicants.

University of Pennsylvania enrolled a  whopping 53.7% of its class the same year with early decision students. Elite schools are looking for students who are committed to staying the course for four years and graduating from their institutions, and early decision students demonstrate that commitment.

There is an advantage given to students able to pay their way without financial aid or other forms of help who apply early decision. Since they are able to attend based on desire vs. financial help, they are quicker to accept the terms of early decision, and most private and, also, expensive schools know this. The commitments for early decision are more likely to come from these students. 

“No matter what anybody tells you, the early pool favors those who are more advantaged,” (Charles) Deacon (Georgetown University Dean of Admissions) said. “They’re the ones who have been better advised. They know more from their families. There’s an advantage, for sure, and that plays itself out particularly at the early level.” - The Washington Post





Where early decision is a binding agreement, early action is a non-binding acceptance that gives notification early in the application process of admission but allows for other applications to proceed. Early action is a good choice for students whose plans are contingent upon financial aid, scholarship, and other monetary awards that will help them pay for school. Early action is a decision that can be changed if another school offers more to the student to help defray costs, or if the student simply decides he wants to go somewhere else.

People grow and change their minds, of course - and that's certainly true of teens. So if your child has been accepted and then changes his mind, try not to panic. A lot can happen in the coming months. When your child arrives on that campus next fall - yes, that's what a binding agreement means - he may realize that everything he fell in love with on his very first visit there is still true. The campus is beautiful, the people are great and the classes are interesting. Most kids end up settling in nicely.  But if he's miserable, he can transfer after his first year or, depending on the specific colleges in play, after the first semester. (P.S. There are some caveats about transfers - some colleges accept very few transfers, for example, and there are a few issues to watch out for.)

Early decision and early action are both tools that can be used wisely during the application process.

Use caution with either, especially if financial help is an issue for your family.


Edited by Sharon Greenthal