by Brenda Ward – Galin Education Director of College Counseling
Applying Early Decision is enticing. Early Decision applicants get an admission response by mid-December, and this is especially appealing for students who are eager to finalize the college application process.
And then there’s the allure of better admission chances. At the Ivies, the admission rate is triple for students who apply early compared to those who apply under regular decision deadlines. Other well-known colleges also post admission rates two or three times higher for Early Decision applicants. These include colleges like Northwestern, Washington U, Vanderbilt, Tufts, Swarthmore, Middlebury, and Johns Hopkins.
The ED advantage does not apply to all popular colleges, however. These colleges post only slightly higher Early Decision admission rates: Pomona College, Miami University of Ohio, Rice University, and the University of Richmond, for examples.
With the ED deadline approaching (November 1), now is the time to decide whether you and your student are ready to commit to one college and whether the advantages of ED outweigh the longer time frame offered under Regular Decision deadlines. Here’s what you should consider:
Understand what you are signing
Early Decision is binding. Parents sign off on the ED contract as do school counselors. ED may provide a “bump” in admission chances at some schools.
Early Action is not binding. Students are not required to commit to the college until May 1, the Regular Decision commitment deadline. (EA programs do not typically offer much of a “bump” in admission.)
Restrictive Early Action is also not binding but it is restrictive: students do not have to commit, but they may not apply under early binding programs to other colleges. (Offered by only a few colleges including Stanford, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Boston College, Georgetown.)
Consider whether senior grades and late testing can enhance the application
While colleges may request mid-semester grades, most ED admission decisions use the student’s grades through Junior Year. If the student’s application would be significantly improved with strong senior grades, ED is probably not the right decision. Similarly, some students may want to hold off applications in order to submit test scores from November and December.
Has the student prepared a strong application?
A well-prepared regular decision application trumps a sloppy Early Decision application. If the student doesn’t have time to craft a thoughtful and thorough application, it’s probably better to forego Early Decision.
Is the college a financial fit?
Financial circumstance is the one acceptable reason for declining an offer of Early Decision, but once declined, the student will no longer be considered for admission under any of that school’s deadline. It is important for families to complete the college’s financial aid calculator and to have a plan for meeting the costs of the Early Decision college. Regular decision provides opportunities to compare financial aid packages before committing to a college on May 1.
Are you all sure?
Early Decision is for families and students who have done their research, are comfortable with the college choice, and are ready to move on from the process. This means visiting the college at least once, talking with others who have attended or are attending the college, and realistically assessing chances of admission. (An Early Decision application to one school takes away the opportunity of applying early to another school.)