Application Strategy: Learn How Early Decision Works

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Applying EarlyOnce you’ve put the finishing touches on your list of best-fit colleges, it’s time to consider application strategy. More specifically, rising seniors need to decide when they will apply to the schools on their list.

Early Decision can be a great application option for a student who is passionate about a certain school and able to meet the deadline. Keep reading to learn more about this application strategy and to determine whether applying early is the right move for you.

A Binding Choice

One of the key differentiating factors that sets Early Decision apart from other early application processes is the fact that it is a binding decision. In other words, if a student is accepted to a college they applied to through Early Decision, the candidate is expected to enroll and must withdraw any outstanding applications. Any student who is considering applying to a college through Early Decision should understand that this is a commitment and feel 100 percent confident that the school they are applying to is truly their top choice school.

All About the Timeline

There are several different Early Decision rounds, each with its own timeline. Students who choose to apply in the first round will face an application deadline sometime in November, with decisions usually released in mid-December. There is also an ED II option, in which students are usually expected to apply by January or February and receive admissions decisions in March. At certain schools, there is also an “ED III” option, in which students can change their regular round application to an ED II application through paperwork. Whether you choose to apply ED I, II, or III, the same foundational rules apply: ED is a binding decision and students must submit their applications by the designated deadline. Early decision policies and dates differ among colleges, so it’s essential to understand the specific rules for each school on your application list.

Benefits of Applying Early

For a student who is passionate about a specific institution, Early Decision can be an excellent choice. Early Decision is one of the best ways to convey your demonstrated interest in a specific school, which can serve as an advantage throughout the application process. The acceptance rate for early decision applicants is often higher than the rate for regular round admissions, however, this is in part due to the nature of the applicants; many students who apply ED are competitive applicants who are on top of the game throughout the admissions process.

When to Give ED a Second Thought

There’s no one-size-fits-all application process and for some students, Early Decision may not be the best option. If a student doesn’t have a clear first-choice school, it may be better to apply in non-binding rounds. Similarly, if a student wishes to have the opportunity to compare financial aid packages and gauge scholarship offerings, applying to a single school ED will not be beneficial. Students who got a late start on the application process and those who are still working on upping their grades and test scores may wish to avoid the first Early Decision round as well.

ED Versus Other Early Options

ED is not the only choice for students looking to submit applications early. Many schools offer Early Action, which follows a similar timeline but does not bind a student to enroll. Some colleges offer Single Choice Early Action or Restricted Early Action, which limits when students can apply to other schools without binding them to a specific choice. The rules for this application process can vary by institution, so make sure to read all of the fine print before committing to this option.

While it may not be for everyone, understanding how Early Decision works can help students determine what kind of application strategy aligns with their needs and goals. If you are currently preparing to apply to college and looking for expert input, our team of college counselors is here to help.

Related Topics

College Application Tips, Early Decision/Early Action

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