If you know exactly where you want to go to college and are confident that you meet or exceed that university’s criteria for acceptance, then it is probably a good idea to apply Early Decision. You will save yourself a lot of time and stress but remember that an Early Decision application requires a ‘binding commitment’ to attend that university after you are accepted.
What is Early Decision? Regular Decision?
Candidates who apply Early Decision (ED) usually submit their applications to their first-choice school by the end of October of their senior year in high school and expect to have a decision by the middle of December. Students who apply “regular decision” must file their applications by a deadline of January 1 or later, depending on the school. Regular decision candidates will receive their admissions decisions from various schools by April 1 and must respond by the national response date of May 1 to confirm their acceptance of the offer.
Why apply Early Decision?
If you have thoroughly researched various colleges’ academic programs and student resources, faculty reputation, alumni network, and geographical location, and have concluded that one school stands out as the best fit for you, that makes you a good candidate for an Early Decision application.
You should meet or exceed the university’s requirements for application. If you do not have to wait for your first semester senior year grades to improve your overall GPA, if your standardized test scores are strong enough that you don’t need to re-take them, and if you have some flexibility in financing your education, go ahead and apply early decision to your number one college choice. This is a major commitment on your part and you must be certain that the one school you choose for an Early Decision is your top choice because, if selected, you are expected to accept their offer of admission.
What are the drawbacks to applying Early Decision? What happens next?
You should receive the Early Decision by the middle of December. If you are accepted, hurray! The stressful wait is over. But there are restrictions placed on Early Decision applicants, including a ‘binding’ commitment to enroll, if accepted, and an agreement to withdraw any regular applications, following your acceptance. The downside is that you will not have a chance to compare financial assistance offers from other schools that you considered. If you need significant financing for your college education, this may be a problem for you and your family and a reason not to apply Early Decision.
On the other hand, if you were not accepted Early Decision, you still have at least two weeks to apply to other schools before the January 1 or later deadline. You will have benefited from saved application fees by reducing the number of schools applied to and will have the opportunity to review all financial aid offers or scholarships from regular applications.
Another drawback to applying ED is that, if you are not accepted, you will be rejected or deferred to the regular decision timeline with all the other applicants in the larger pool. The good news is that you may still have a chance to attend your top choice school with the advantage of seeing which other schools have offered you acceptances and financing or scholarships.
What is Early Action, offered by some schools?
Early Action offers may be considered the ‘best of both worlds.’ You can find out early in January or February, instead of waiting until April 1, that you have been accepted to a school but you still will be able to wait and see who else will accept you by April 1 in the regular application pool. Early Action offers of acceptance are not binding, meaning you are not required to accept immediately; you can wait to see all your offers and accept the best one by the national response date of May 1. This is a good alternative to an Early Decision application, if you are ready to apply early.
Apply Early Action by November if you have picked a couple of colleges that you qualify for and want to know about your acceptances early. This will allow you to review your financial aid packages from several universities.
Can I apply Early Decision or Early Action on the Common Application?
Yes, you can.
Does applying early improve my chances of acceptance?
Many students believe that applying early statistically improves their chances of acceptance. Some universities do accept a larger percentage of ED applicants than the regular pool but this is not consistent across all schools. One reason for this higher acceptance percentage may be that most early applicants have very competitive profiles and have indicated their commitment to attend a specific university.
Should I wait to apply in January to a number of schools?
Applying regular decision gives you extra time to improve your application by including Fall semester senior year grades and to re-take the SAT/ACT in hopes of increasing your score.
Applying Regular Decision in January is a solid choice for the student who has several colleges in mind, including a ‘reach’ or ’dream’ school, a ‘safety’ school, and the others that fall in between. Remember to doublecheck every school’s deadlines for submission of all materials. The Common App website offers a reminder system.
Good luck with your applications. This is the beginning of a great adventure.