What Is Early Decision, and Is it Right for You? 

Ginger Abbot

Feb 27, 2023

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Imagine receiving your college acceptance letter and settling on the perfect school before your classmates. Applying for college through early decision or early action may be the best admissions strategy for those with unwavering determination to attend a particular institution.  

However, submitting an early decision application isn’t for everyone, and there are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to applying to college through early decision or early action. 

If you’ve ever wondered what early decision and early action processes are, this guide will help you determine if it’s the best college admissions strategy for you.

Early Decision vs. Early Action

A few key differences between early decision and early action set the two apart. For starters, early action means that a school will notify the student by mail well in advance if they’ve been accepted. This is beneficial if you’ve wondered how you might rank amongst other applicants for your top schools. 

Early action applicants do their homework on their intended college and its programs — and admissions officers usually consider these students serious about their academic careers and a good fit for their programs. 

Some colleges use a non-binding restrictive early action procedure, meaning students may not be able to apply for early action at another school or may only get one shot at acceptance. 

On the other hand, an early decision is binding. If students are accepted during early decision, they must commit to attending the school and agree to withdraw their applications from everywhere else.

Although colleges may not always go after students who break their early decision commitments, it could ruin their academic reputation. 

Applying for an Early Decision

College applications usually include several requirements and supplemental documents. Schools that request a college essay may also have extensive instructions that take up more of your writing time. However, the time and effort it takes to apply to multiple schools should never be your primary reason to pursue an early decision.  

Students who wish to apply for an early decision should only do so if they’ve researched the school and are adamant that it’s their first choice. For instance, consider whether the institution meets your academic, social, and geographic needs.

If you’re truly ready, you’ll want to send your early decision application in November to only one school, in which case you’ll likely know whether you’ve been admitted by December. 

If you’re accepted, immediately pull out of the admissions processes for any other schools you applied to and send your deposit well before the tuition is due.

Deciding Whether Early Decision Is Right for You

Creating a pros and cons list is helpful if you’re debating whether an early decision is right for you. It would be best if you also asked yourself some honest questions regarding your future college career, such as the following:

  • Does the school offer everything I want and need, such as sports, learning opportunities, tutoring, and career services?
  • Will I feel safe or comfortable at the school’s location?
  • Do they offer my intended major? If I’m undecided, do they have a wide variety to choose from?
  • Is financial aid or other awards — scholarships, grants, etc. — available for me to apply to?

Regarding financial aid, students who apply for early decision will receive a financial aid package with their acceptance letter. That means they will not be able to compare the cost of tuition, books, and other campus fees at other colleges. 

Consider that students pay about $10,560 to attend an in-state public school. Applying for early decision may be risky if a student knows they’ll require substantial financial assistance to cover their education costs.

A few other things to keep in mind when applying for early decision is whether you genuinely feel you’ve explored every option. Students may feel pressure to commit to one college when there could be another better-suited school.

Additionally, if you don’t hear back from your top choice until mid-December, the deadlines to apply to other colleges will be right around the corner — perhaps giving you only a couple of weeks to fill out applications and mail the materials. If you choose to apply early, it may be in your best interest to prepare additional applications just in case. 

Of course, students who receive their acceptance letters for early decision sometimes get a serious case of senioritis. However, it’s no time to slack off. Even early decision students can have their acceptance to the college rescinded if their grades slip by the end of the year. 

Think Long and Hard Before Applying for Early Decision

Applying for early decision is not the best course for every student. Those who have long hoped to attend a particular university and have researched extensively are the ideal candidates for this sort of admissions process. Otherwise, regular admissions are the smartest option as you begin applying for college.

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