Almost September – Time To Decide About Early Decision

Many families believe that Early Decision is the best way to get into highly selective colleges. They know that ED admit rates are often higher than those of Regular Decision, sometimes even twice as high or more. And when looking at low RD admit rates, anything helps! Your child will need to decide soon if she expects to apply during this round with its application deadlines of October 15, November 1, and November 15. But is applying Early Decision the right decision for your child?

Under the rules of Early Decision, a student may only apply to one ED school. If admitted, the student is bound to enroll at that school and must withdraw all other applications. The only acceptable reason to walk away from this binding contract is if the college is unable to meet the family’s demonstrated financial need. But this is not a negotiation you want to have during the last two weeks of December, between the time your child has gotten into her dream school and the January 1 Regular Decision deadline for many of the colleges on her list.

Why do colleges offer this plan? Enrollment managers and trustees love it because it locks in a portion of their entering class and removes some degree of uncertainty about their overall yield, the percentage of all admitted students who decide to enroll. Colleges are in fierce competition with each other over this metric, driving some to game the system and admit larger portions of their entering class in the ED round. Last year, twenty-nine institutions admitted over fifty percent of their freshman class this way, with several exceeding sixty percent, driving the Regular Decision admit rates into the single digits at some schools.

Fortunately, some institutions understand that by gaming the system this way they are disadvantaging their own ability to select from the larger RD pool of diverse and talented applicants, and have put reasonable caps on the number of ED applicants they will admit, often deferring strong ED applicants into the later RD pool.

Who should apply Early Decision? Here is your checklist:

  • A student who has done extensive research into many colleges, has made several campus visits, and has found her dream school.

  • A student who will not need to compare the financial aid offers of several colleges even though these awards may differ substantially between schools.

  • A student who is ahead of schedule and can guarantee that his ED application and essays will be completed by early- or mid-October, two weeks before most of the ED deadlines.

  • A student who has demonstrated strong grades and activities in high school and does not require an uptick in the first semester of senior year to improve her GPA or profile.

  • A student who, if deferred or denied by her ED school, will be able to get past the disappointment and infuse the rest of his applications and essays with all the enthusiasm they require.

  • A student who knows for a fact that there is a sufficient statistical advantage applying ED to her dream school. 

If this describes your child, the potential rewards of ED may be worth the risks. To help you make the best decision for your family, be sure to download our Early Decision and Regular Decision Acceptance Rates chart on the Resources page of our website. By carefully considering the pros and cons, you will  be able to make the decision that is best for your family.

Jeff Levy, CEP