The following piece was written by Rachel Korn. Rachel has been featured in our Admissions Expert series and is a former University of Pennsylvania admissions officer, as well as the founder of her own admissions consulting firm.
Most high school students apply to college in Regular Decision (RD) admissions rounds, with deadlines in the winter of their senior years, flexibility to apply to multiple schools, and the ability to attend the college they most prefer among those to which they are admitted; however, there is another popular option: Early Decision (ED). ED is an admissions plan for students who have a far and away #1 choice school and want to apply there in an earlier deadline in the fall – and commit to attend if admitted. ED often sounds like a great solution to the pressure of college admissions – you apply sooner, hear an answer sooner, and if admitted, you need not to follow through with any other applications, able to spend your entire spring semester relaxed, knowing you are “in.” However, there are several reasons why ED may be a poor choice for you. If you are torn between applying Early Decision or Regular Decision, consider the following academic, financial, and personal reasons why sometimes, you should wait for Regular Decision:
Your best chance for admission is when you present your strongest application, and your senior year grades can be especially important credentials. With ED, admissions officers may see your quarter or mid-semester grades, but they will not be able to see your final first semester grades. If you have not had a perfect academic record thus far but are moving on an upward trend, taking more honors and AP courses (especially for a first time) that you can tackle successfully and thinking that you can raise your GPA, you may want to wait for RD to allow those grades to be a part of your application. A strong senior year can, in fact, be critical to some students who are on the edge of admission. If your senior grades can help you, wait.
Standardized testing will also need to be completed fully and to your satisfaction sooner with ED. If you are not happy enough with your results and want to take a test one more time – or if you need to complete any further testing still, RD is the plan for you.
Early Decision is a binding agreement, and if you need financial aid, you may not want to get trapped in a commitment with only one possible offer of financial aid from one college. Colleges award aid for ED – and that may be enough for you – but you and your parents should do your homework before applying about schools’ aid policies to determine if you can take the risk to get enough help from your top-choice school. Potentially, if you apply to several schools, you could be awarded slightly different aid packages or even be awarded scholarships. While colleges offering ED plans should be giving you the identical aid package you would receive from them in RD, you would lose your ability to shop around for other financial aid packages. If you prefer to apply ED to a beloved school, just make sure you try to get a sense of the potential aid package you will receive so you will not have any surprises.
Note: If you really cannot afford to attend the ED school with the package it offers, you can be released from the commitment – a tiny handful of students are released every year. However, this is not something you should count on, and truly, if a certain amount of guaranteed financial aid is critical to you and you may not be able to get it from that beloved college, ED is unwise.
ED can sound tempting. You may feel peer pressure about applying early if many of your friends will be applying in the fall. You may hear that there are strategies in applying early to increase your chances of admission. Indeed, sometimes your chances of admission in ED are higher than in RD, but you need to be sure that you have really identified the one school for you and that you are not just rushing to apply early to increase your chances, especially if you are thinking about applying to a reach school simply with a name you like. If you have not identified a school you truly love above all others and if you have not visited a few college campuses (including your ED choice) by the summer before your senior year to understand what feels “right’ to you, you should hold on until RD. Allow yourself time to explore to make sure you are choosing the right fit for yourself. Admission to the wrong school is a lose-lose both for you and for a college if you end up wanting to transfer out later.
So, why ED?
Early Decision is an ideal option if you dream of one specific college, will be your academic best and have completed all your testing by the fall, and are comfortable with your potential financial aid options. If you find that you do not match these conditions, hold on and apply in Regular Decision when you can be comfortable, confident, and in control.
Visit Rachel’s Admissions Consulting site.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.