What is Early Decision for College?November 12, 2019
If you, or your son or daughter, are currently applying for colleges, you live in a world of deadlines. There are ACT registration dates, SAT prep dates, application deadlines, and scholarship due dates. When you live by the calendar, it can feel like torture waiting to hear back from schools, especially your top choice. Some colleges have early decision options that help push the application and admissions process along. What is early decision? Students can elect to apply early decision to (typically) one school as early as November, and can subsequently hear back from that school in just a few weeks. There’s more to the agreement though…
Let’s dig into the details to see if this application option is right for you.
What is Early Decision?
Early decision is available at many private colleges and universities, and some public schools also offer this option. Certain highly selective programs like Ivy League schools can limit students to only one early application. Through this option, prospective students submit applications in early- to mid-November and hear back as early as late-November. This notification rolls in months before you might hear back from other colleges. In a typical application timeline, students submit applications in early winter for decisions by mid- to late spring.
There are two different early application windows. Early Decision I is typically in November while Early Decision II is in December or even January. If you don’t get into your Early Decision I school, you can still apply to another school’s Early Decision II deadline.
Early decision can also give you an edge when it comes to acceptance rate. In 2018, colleges with early decision had an average regular acceptance rate of 50.7%, while the early decision acceptance rate was 62.3%. Colleges appear to weigh early decision applications differently since these potential students demonstrate a strong interest in their programs.
What Are the Drawbacks of Early Decision?
If you apply to a binding arrangement like early decision, you lose the opportunity to compare financial aid packages from multiple colleges. This might also impact a college’s incentive to offer you merit-based financial aid. If you already expressed excitement and interest, why would the school need to convince you to attend by offering scholarship discounts? You might even have to accept the offer before hearing from third-party scholarship organizations, affecting your ability to accurately determine if you’ll be able to afford that dream school.
You can only typically reject an early decision offer if the school’s financial aid package isn’t realistic for your financial situation or if your financial situation has changed. However, if the school truly is your first choice, you can still apply for scholarships or private student loans to help bridge the gap.
Finally, if you’re going to hit early decision deadlines, you need to be very organized. Submitting applications four to six months early means you also need to have application materials ready early. It’s recommended that you leave time to take the ACT and/or SAT at least twice, in case you need to boost your score. Without planning ahead, you might find yourself up against early decision deadlines.
If early decision seems like an intimidating commitment, many schools also offer early action. This option allows students to apply and receive an admission decision earlier than typical decisions. But the main difference is that the option isn’t binding.
What’s The Right Choice?
Now that we’ve answered the question, “What is early decision?” the next question is whether this option is right for you. It can be tempting to want to hear back from your dream school before the holiday break hits. However, you have to consider if you’re prepared to submit your best application at such an early date. You also have to do your research regarding financial aid.
There are many choices to make when applying for college. Be sure you’re aware of what your choices mean for your college career and the loans that will help you get through those four years.
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