It’s getting more popular. Over the past decade, the amount of early decision applications has grown rapidly, especially in highly selective private institutions. For those that don’t know, early decision is an election on an application for a student to make a commitment to attend their first-choice school. These elections are notable because they are binding. For those that elect early decision, if they are accepted at that college, they will withdraw all other applications and attend that school.
Why are students locking themselves in to attend these schools? A boost in acceptance rates. A national state of college admissions report suggested that students applying early decision were accepted at a 12% higher clip than those apply regular decision.
What are the details of early decision? (And just how binding is a binding agreement for early decision)
When a student applies early decision, it is a binding agreement signed by the student, parent and guidance counselor that indicates that the student will attend the college if accepted. Just how binding is a question that a lot of our clients have.
This is not a legally binding contract, instead it is bound by honor. Schools can’t chase down students that are accepted early decision and don’t attend and force them to pay for admissions costs, however there must be a valid reason to revoke the early decision. For students that apply early decision and are accepted, if it will be financially difficult to attend based on the financial aid package, that is reason for terminating the early decision. Other reasons to back out of the arrangement traditionally won’t suffice, so it is extremely important for your child to be committed if they elect to send their application in using the early decision route.
What are the concerns to early decision?
The largest item to consider here is that you are essentially speeding up the acceptance process. While this shortens the timeframe, it also limits a student’s flexibility. Many 17-year old’s struggle to identify their intended major and career aspirations. The added decision time to make their school choice by May 1st can be helpful instead of making this decision in the fall.
From a financial aid standpoint, applying early decision does limit a student’s ability to negotiate between the different schools that they apply to, as they will withdraw other applications once accepted. In essence, this can play a role to limit your bargaining power for financial aid.
Is your child looking to boost their GPA in the senior year fall or retake the ACTs/SATs? If so, early decision is likely not a good choice, as you’ll have eliminated this opportunity by speeding up the application process.
There are many factors to consider before your child applies early decision to the schools on their list. If you have questions about your child’s situation, feel free to reach out, I’d be happy to help.
All the best,
Andrew Holmes, Certified College Planning Specialist™
Check out my recent whitepaper: 5 College Planning Mistakes to Avoid
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Revised since last publication, Oct 2022