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Why You Should Consider Early Decision

Whether you are a senior unsure if you want to apply ED 2 or a junior thinking ahead to college applications next year, you might be a bit hesitant about putting all your eggs in the Early Decision basket.  

While it might seem like a big commitment, and it’s certainly one you should think extensively about, there are some huge benefits to choosing Early Decision!  Please check out this blog, which explains what Early Decision means in the context of all the “early options.”

If you are a junior just getting started with test prep and the college process, we implore you to consider Early Decision, especially if you have your sights set on a top school.  As you begin campus visits, treat them as if you are “hunting” for your Early Decision school. While prestige matters, fit matters more, so remember to focus on campus culture, specific programs of interest, and other factors that will truly enhance your college experience.  Below, we’ve detailed a few reasons why applying early is a strategic move!

1. Higher chance of admission

At many schools, applying Early Decision greatly increases your chance of admission. However, it’s important to recognize the higher ED rates at Ivy Leagues and other top 20 schools are, in part, due to legacy admissions and recruited athletes, so the effects of applying ED aren’t as pronounced as they might seem.  Still, schools like Duke, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, and Johns Hopkins fill around half their freshman class from ED applicants.

Applying Early Decision has the greatest effect at small, selective liberal arts colleges like Middlebury.  Middlebury fills over half its class with Early Decision applicants and its Early Decision acceptance rate is a staggering 50%, as compared with its regular acceptance rate of about 16%. 

The reason that ED improves your chance of admission at top schools has to do with yield, or the number of accepted students that choose to attend the university.  Top schools are competing with each other to attract the most talented students; thus, it’s a demonstration of prestige to attract the most talented students to your school (AKA have a comparatively high yield rate). Since ED students are bound to a school, they dramatically improve a college’s admissions yield. 

2. Better financial aid and scholarship opportunities

Students who apply Early Decision or Early Action (non-binding) are more likely to receive need-based and merit-based aid.  The reason for this is simple— when you apply early, the admissions office has yet to see the full applicant pool. Therefore, they have yet to exhaust their merit- and need-based resources.  This effect is especially pronounced at large state schools, and the effects extend to Early Action (non binding candidates).

There are some misconceptions that the binding nature of Early Decision will lessen a student’s need or merit aid. These misconceptions are just that— misconceptions!  In fact, in many cases the Early Decision pool, due to self-selection, tends to include students who are hyper-focused and future-oriented. As such, many ED candidates are deserving of merit aid and will receive scholarships at a similar proportion as their regular decision counterparts. 

Other Financial Considerations

For Early Decision candidates, the decision is binding, with the caveat that you can reject the offer if the financial aid package is insufficient.  If you find that your aid package makes a school unaffordable, they are usually willing to negotiate because if they accepted you early, then they truly do want you as a student!

In order to make the financial aid claim if you want to reject an ED offer, you must have filled out FAFSA and the school’s CSS profile. Make sure that you’ve filled out the family contribution column of the CSS as accurately and realistically as possible, as schools look to CSS to make your financial aid package.  Finally, be aware that schools are sensitive to situational changes like a parent losing their job. Be willing to share this information and be open to negotiating until you get a package that works for your family. 

If you know that your family is relying on financial aid, you can still apply ED, but make sure you have the rest of your applications ready to go. That way,  if you do have to reject the offer, you’ll have plenty of other options. 

3. Applying regular decision becomes easier

After you submit your early application(s), supplemental essays can easily be repurposed to fit other schools (but, make sure your supplementals show that you have done your research and are interested in something about a school that couldn’t be said about any school).

In short, Early Decision is a great idea, but one that should be heavily considered due to its binding nature.  If you truly have your sights set on one school, then Early Decision could be right for you. 

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