Applying Early Decision? 3 Questions to Answer Before You Do

This article – written by teacher, administrator and adjunct professor at Temple University, Dave Bergman, Ed.D. – was reprinted with permission from College Transitions

If your child is considering an application for Early Decision,  these three critical questions need to be answered before she or he hits ‘send’.

college student1. “Can I afford to pay the bill?”

Early decision (ED) admission into a college means that you will be receiving only one financial aid offer, which may or may not be enough to sufficiently cover your college-related expenses. Remember, your ED college is not particularly inclined to award a generous package, given that they have already secured your commitment to attend.  Therefore, if you cannot afford to pay full price at an institution, think twice about applying early decision there. ED is a binding enterprise and backing out, even with financial justification, is not a pleasant road to travel down. 

2. “How much will applying early decision really help my chances at admission?”

Admission rates are often higher for ED applicants, but these stats are somewhat inflated, especially at the most elite universities.  Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown and other similarly selective institutions aim to lock up crème de la crème students during the ED stage, but they are unlikely to admit someone with less than (extremely) impressive credentials. They simply have no incentive to do so. 

However, ED-related advantages are greater at a number of equally reputable, yet less selective institutions, especially those within the liberal arts sector.  Many such schools, despite their top-notch offerings, often lose “popularity contests” to more recognizable, brand-name institutions. As such, Williams, Amherst, Swarthmore and other lions of the liberal arts world are more inclined to roll the dice on a “borderline” applicant.   

College Transitions recently published a list comparing Early Decision and Regular Decision admission rates at America’s most selective colleges and universities. Please visit our Dataverse page to see the list.  

3. “Am I 100% sure that I want to attend this school?” 

Senior year can be a time of significant growth and change. A commitment you make in the fall may seem far less appealing months later. An inspirational AP English teacher may steer you away from the engineering path you felt so strongly about in October. Perhaps you’ll learn about a lesser-known college that sounds like it was built just for you. Conduct a serious self-assessment of your personality before submitting your ED application. Are you someone whose academic and career desires stay consistent over time or do your interests tend to change as you engage in new experiences? Will you genuinely enjoy attending college 2500 miles from home or are you someone who ultimately likes to see their family on a regular basis? 

Settling on a college is a huge decision in so many ways, and one that many students are not ready to make when their first day on campus is still 10 months away. If you’ve considered every variable and ED still sounds like a good idea, then go for it. If you have even a shadow of a doubt, let life unfold a little further before making such an important commitment.  

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Author: Jennifer Hamlet

Jennifer is the curator for Ridgewood and would love any feedback or suggestions you may have.


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