Most students will not submit Early Decision college applications for the same reason that most students will be accepted at their first-choice school. Students generally apply Early Decision to improve the admission chances at a limited number of extremely competitive colleges. Only 10% of all four-year colleges accept less than 40% of students. Since most students aren’t going to these colleges, there is no reason to apply Early Decision. If you are considering applying Early Decision, you need to understand the following:
1. Early Decision is binding.
This means that if you are accepted at a college through Early Decision, you agree to attend. The only reason to reject Early Decision is for inadequate financial aid. If accepted, you are required to withdraw your applications from any other schools. However, this is not legally binding. It’s strictly a “gentleman’s agreement.”
2. You can only apply to one school Early Decision
You are only supposed to apply to one college through Early Decision. Colleges are no longer allow to formally consult with one another concerning applicants. However, it is still possible for schools to hear about students who have applied Early Decision at more than one school and these schools will reject the applicant. Furthermore, students using the Common Application are limited to applying to only one institution by the application.
3. Early Decision is not the same as early action.
Early Action is not binding and students may apply to multiple schools through Early Action. Some schools such as Harvard, Stanford, and MIT have “Restrictive Early Action” instead of Early Decision. These programs generally allow you to apply to non-binding public or foreign institutions but no private colleges. Students who are accepted under the Restrictive Early Action will usually have until May 1st to accept. Essentially, Restrictive Early Action eliminates the students’ burden of having to commit early before knowing how they would fair in the regular admissions process and allows them to compare financial aid packages.
4. You will get your financial aid award information sooner.
Colleges that have Early Decision options will also provide you with your financial aid award before you have to accept. This means you’ll be completing your financial aid application earlier as well.
5. For the majority of colleges with low acceptance rates, you have a better chance of being admitted.
Early Decision is a big deal because students are more likely to be admitted under Early Decision at schools that have very low acceptance rates. This is not true for all Early Decision schools.
6. Most colleges with an Early Decision advantage require the PROFILE financial aid form.
The majority of the competitive schools with Early Decision use the PROFILE for financial aid. This means that the school may consider home equity, retirement accounts, and non-custodial parent information when calculating EFC. Therefore, it’s essential that families use the college’s net price calculator to estimate their net price for attendance before applying.
7. Most colleges with an Early Decision advantage claim to meet 100% of need.
If you have a very low EFC and need generous financial aid, applying Early Decision at one of the competitive schools that meet 100% of need makes sense. However, be sure to use the school’s net price calculator and be prepared to pay your EFC. You should also check with the college to see if they consider PLUS loans as a way of meeting financial need. Another area to check is to see how they handle outside scholarships.
8. Colleges that provide an Early Decision advantage aren’t as generous with merit aid.
Yes, in the vast majority of cases the college considers Early Decision applicants for all eligible aid. The reality is that they simply don’t offer that much merit aid to begin with because they don’t have to. These are schools with very low acceptance rates-they have no reason to offer generous scholarships to get students to attend. This is why students should not apply Early Decision if they want to compare merit offers from various schools.
9. You can decline Early Decision for financial reasons.
Students are allowed to decline Early Decision acceptance if they do not receive enough financial aid. The process will vary by school. Some will just accept a student notifying the admissions office while others might require supporting documents. The important thing to remember is that once you decline, you can’t change your mind. For example, if none of the other schools you apply to provide better financial aid, you cannot go back to the Early Decision school and ask to be accepted again.
In summary, Early Decision is about colleges, usually those with already larger than average endowments, minimizing their financial risk while increasing the financial risk for students.
Early Decision and Regular Decision Acceptance Rates Table
Jennie Kent and Jeff Levy compile Early Decision acceptance rates every year into a spreadsheet. The easiest way to find out which schools have an Early Decision advantage, is to sort their data by the “Maximum Percent of Class Filled from ED” column. You’ll notice that it isn’t until the percentage falls under 40% that the ED advantage starts to disappear. Some schools aren’t included because of missing information. You can get their complete listing of Early Decision colleges here.