What is "early decision" in college applications?

I’ve heard people referring to early decision - I don’t entirely understand what it is and what the advantage is. My daughter is about to wrap up her junior year in high school, so college looms large.

Educate me, please - what’s the deal with early decision?

As explained to me by my daughter who is a freshman in college, as she understands it:

So it means that Young Miss FairyChat can apply to colleges that offer “early decision” this summer and fall, instead of waiting to hand it in until Spring 2004, for Fall 2004 matriculation.

Some colleges require that if you use “Early Decision”, you have to commit to attending their college if you’re accepted, so read the fine print. It’s not quite the same thing as handing in fast food employment applications all over town and then when they all call you, picking the Burger King that’s closest to your boyfriend’s house.


Early decision is the early college application process, used by most colleges. While colleges usually accept students on a rolling basis until March or so of the students’ graduating year, those students who are set on a particular school as their ‘first choice’ may submit an early decision application and be considered for admission earlier than other prospective students. The deadline is usually in December, and students are notified shortly thereafter. If your daughter has a first choice college in mind, it would be a great idea for her to consider early decision, but keep in mind that colleges share their early decision lists with one another, and generally frown a student upon applying to more than one college on early decision (in fact, most will remove the student from consideration if they’ve applied this way to more than one school). Some colleges also have early action, which is similar to early decision, but differs only in that you may apply to more than one school this way.
The advantage is that students who apply either of these ways are basically telling their prospective colleges, “I’m very serious about your school and I think that I would make a great candidate!” I’m not sure if the students-accepted percentage is higher than that of regular admission, but I know that at my school (Mount St. Mary’s in MD) 132 students applied early last year, and about 100 of those were accepted. Your daughter’s prospective schools may vary. :slight_smile:

Wow, I didn’t even see DDG’s post on preview, but she has managed to sum it up more concisely than I did, and also included the bit that I forgot-most schools indeed require you to attend if you’re accepted on early decision. One of the reasons they only want you to apply that way for one college, I suppose.

FCM - you might want to check the on-line Atlantic archives. Over the past year they had an in-depth article or two, along with many follow-up letters/commentaries, as to the merits of and problems with “early decision.”

Interesting - so unless you are certain you want to attend a particular school, this is not a good option? I know there’s one school she’d love to attend, but there’s no way we can afford it without a drastic lifestyle change or lots of scholarships. And there’s another that she really wanted to attend till she found out about the expensive private college.

It sounds as if the early application is a contract of sorts then.

Dinsdale - thanks - I’ll check it out.

Early Decision is more than just getting an answer. If you apply to a college that offers Early Decision, you are committed to attending that college. You are saying to the college, “This is where I want to go.” You are legally obligated to attend and must withdraw any applications to other colleges. If you choose not to go, the college could bill you for tuition (I don’t know how likely this is, but it within their rights).

In addition, you commit to the school regardless of any financial aid they give you. While a college will usually give ED applicants first crack at the money, if the money goesn’t come through, they still expect you to come (though some may let you off the hook if you genuinely can’t afford them).

You apply early decision to one school, and one school only. You can apply to other schools, both for early action or regular decision, but if your Early Decision school accepts you, you have to go there.

Use Early Decision if you know absolutely that the college is right for you.

Now, there’s also Early Action. In this case, you apply early (say, November) and get an answer early. However, you do not have to commit until May 1 (I think that’s the date).

There are also Rolling Admissions. These are regular admissions, only they accept people as admissions come in instead of waiting until after the dealine.

FCM That is right – you should not use this option unless you are committed to attending a certain school. Basically, you are telling the school: YOU are the one I want. And the school, in turn agrees to give your application special consideration (in the sense of being viewed ahead of general applicants).

The advantage of it is that ideally you only have to complete one application. This is pretty huge. I can still recall my college applications process as being one of the most harrowing and stressful periods of my entire life.

The disadvantage is that, as mentioned above, being accepted is considered a contract of sorts. (not sure about the legalities of it).

If you are not accepted you can still apply to that school again in the regular pool, and you also still have plenty of time to apply to other schools.

Well, then, I now understand a lot more - many thanks.

It’d sure be nice to have a college decision as soon as possible, but I don’t think this is the route we’ll want the kid to take. Plus I don’t know if either of her two top choices do this. Since she’s not bound and determined to attend one over the other, it sounds as if going into the regular fray is her best option.

I appreciate all the answers!

Some colleges now offer non-binding early decision, though for the life of me I can’t understand why. It’s just early action, then.

Early decision is attractive to colleges because it removes so much of the quesswork as far as yields go. They might be willing to accept a student ED that otherwise wouldn’t get accepted via the regular process. A bird in hand, and all that.

Early Decision is good if she knows where she wants to go and what she wants to do once she gets there. She can get it out of the way and then sit back and relax and enjoy her senior year without all the nail-biting anxiety, “Whatcha gonna do after you graduate?” like we went through.

We’re planning to do some campus visits this summer - that should help her decide for sure where she wants to go - maybe enough to make ED worth it.

Again, I thank you all!