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When it comes to applying to highly selective colleges and universities, one factor to consider is applying “Early Decision.”  At many of these colleges, students who apply through Early Decision, or ED, make up an increasingly larger percentage of the enrolled freshman class. And it’s no secret that applying ED can have significant admissions advantages. But why?

What is Early Decision?

Applying ED to a college or university means that you get your application submitted by the school’s earliest application deadline – typically, Nov. 1. By choosing to apply ED, you are essentially telling the college, “You’re my first-choice school, and if you accept me, I will enroll.”

How Does it Work?

Students can apply ED to only one school. Your ED application is a binding agreement between you and the college, so if you are accepted, you are required to withdraw your applications to all other college and submit your enrollment deposit at the ED school. If you are not accepted, you are released from the agreement.

Some schools have another round of ED called EDII. EDII applications are typically due around the same time as “regular decision” applications – typically around Jan. 1. Some applicants will choose an ED college and have an EDII school selected as well, in case they aren’t accepted to their first choice.

What are the advantages of applying ED?

ED applicants often enjoy significantly higher acceptance rates than students who do not apply ED. The reason is intuitive: Colleges want to offer admission to students they know or believe will actually enroll. ED helps admissions offices with enrollment management, but taking more ED students can help colleges boost their “yield,” which is the percentage of admitted students who choose to enroll. Higher yield numbers help colleges in national rankings.

The ED admissions advantage can vary widely from school to school. One of the most striking differences is at Tulane University. ED acceptance rates for* for students applying to enroll in Fall 2022 were 67.9%, compared with just 8.6% for those applying regular decision. Other colleges for which ED rates were significantly higher include Grinnell College, Colby College, Northeastern University and Amherst College. At these schools, ED applicants represented between 53 and 68% of the fall 2022 freshman classes.

It’s important, of course, to look at the relative selectivity of a school when determining an ED strategy. Some schools are so selective that even their ED acceptance rates are less than 20% (with RD rates often in the single digits). At others, ED applicants might enjoy a 50 or 60% admissions rate, as compared with RD rates in the 30 to 40% range.

Students looking to apply ED must weigh the true advantage at their ED school of choice against factors such as their own academic records and application strengths. And at some colleges, the ED/RD admission rates differ so little that it may not be worth it to apply ED, when you know you’ll be giving up your opportunity to weigh admissions offers and financial packages from a number of schools.

Of course, another advantage of applying ED is that you receive a decision sooner – usually by mid-December. If you’re accepted, the college search is over, and you can relax a bit more and enjoy your senior year! If not, you can have an RD plan ready to go or revisit any schools you applied to Early Action (nonbinding) or via Rolling Admissions and to which you were admitted.

Finally, many colleges have found that students admitted ED tend to report being happier on their campuses and earn higher GPAs in college. This may be because ED students are typically familiar enough with the school to accurately predict if it will be a good fit, given that ED isn’t a decision to make without as much information as possible.

Should You Apply ED?

While early decision is not for every student, and many colleges don’t even offer early decision, it is one of the few strategic decisions a student can make early in their senior year. Things like grades and impressions made upon teachers are typically no longer in a student’s control once it is September of senior year. But choosing to apply early decision to your first-choice college may be a choice you can make that will improve your odds of admission.

Our counselors strongly discourage students from applying Early Decision to a college that they haven’t thoroughly researched – that includes having visited, as well as having calculated the potential net price and discussing cost affordability with their family.

Galin’s college counselors are here to help students and families sort through the ED decision as well as all other aspects of the college search and application process, so please reach out if you’re looking for guidance!

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