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What is Early Decision?

Learn the Pros and Cons of Applying to College Early


Admission Type: Early Action | Single-Choice Early Action | Early Decision | Rolling Admission | Open Admissions

Early decision, like early action, is an accelerated college application process in which students typically must complete their applications in November. In most cases, students will then receive a decision from the college before the new year.

Early decision has a few obvious benefits:

  • Frequently the acceptance rate is higher for early decision than it is for regular admissions.
  • Students who aren't accepted early are still considered with the regular applicant pool.
  • Students who are accepted early are done stressing about getting into college months before most applicants.
However, early decision is not as attractive as early action for several reasons:
  • Early decision is binding. If admitted, a student must attend the school or else lose a sizable enrollment deposit.
  • A student may apply to only one college early (although additional applications for regular admissions are allowed).
  • If accepted, a student must withdraw all other college applications.
  • A student accepted early must decide to attend before receiving a financial aid package (colleges do allow students to break the early decision contract if the school fails to come up with enough aid to meet a student's demonstrated need, but realize that the student's need is calculated by the school and the FAFSA, not by what students think they can afford).
Because of the restrictions placed on applicants applying through early decision, a student should not apply early unless he or she is 100% sure that the college is the best choice.

Also, be careful about the financial aid issue. A student who gets accepted through early decision has no way to compare financial aid offers. The money issue, in fact, is the main reason why a few schools like Harvard and University of Virginia dropped their early decision programs; they felt it gave wealthy students an unfair advantage.

The chart below shows a small sampling of early decision deadlines and response dates.

Sample Early Decision Dates
College Application Deadline Receive a Decision by...
Alfred University December 1 December 15
Boston University November 1 December 15
Brandeis University November 1 December 15
Emory University Novemer 1 December 15
Harvey Mudd November 15 December 15
Williams College November 10 December 15

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