Three considerations before applying Early Decision
Early decision has never been a popular choice among college bound seniors. For some, it’s about maximizing their chances of being admitted to the school of their dreams. For others, it’s about minimizing the stress of senior year, bringing peace and certainty to one’s fleeting high school days. ED can be an excellent choice for some, but it is critical that you pause to consider several factors before finalizing that application.
1. If you cannot afford to pay full price at an institution, do not apply there ED. Remember, ED is a binding enterprise and backing out of an acceptance is a highly undesirable outcome. Your financial award letter will come after you are already locked in to that school’s freshman class. Don’t make assumptions about merit aid when it comes to ED. The stakes are simply too high.
2. Admissions rates are indeed typically higher for ED applicants, but these stats are a bit overhyped. Highly selective schools like to lock in the cream of the crop during the ED phase, but they are unlikely to “reach” for someone whose credentials are below their median range. They simply have no incentive to do so. Many applicants fret about the high percentage of the freshman class already filled after the ED process. Don’t let this fear drive your decision. Even if a selective liberal arts school accepts 500 of a class of 1000 through ED, that doesn’t mean they only have 500 more acceptances to offer. Remember colleges are always worried about their yield and may have to offer 1500 acceptances in order to fill those 500 remaining spots.
3. The most obvious consideration, of course, is, “Am I 100% sure that I want to attend this school?” Senior year can be a time of significant growth and change. A commitment you make in the fall may seem far less appealing six months later. An inspirational AP English teacher may steer a student away from the engineering path they felt strongly about in October. The key, as with so much of the admissions process, is to know thyself. Are you someone whose academic and career desires stay consistent over time or are you a someone whose interests change as you engage in new experiences?
Bottom Line: Early Decision can be a great choice, but put great thought into whether it is the right choice for you prior to making a commitment.
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent education consultant. He is a co-author of the book The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).