Should You Apply Early Decision?
You can apply to a college under its normal admissions schedule…or you can apply early decision. Under an early decision plan, you send in your application much earlier than the rest of the pack—usually in November—and hear back within a month or two. Not every college allows you to apply early decision, but a high number do—over 400 in the U.S., according to the College Board.
Getting your college application process done early and hearing back sooner than your friends do might sound great, but there are pros and cons to deciding whether or not to apply early decision. Here’s an overview of the pluses and drawbacks.
You may have a better chance of getting in
Colleges know that students who apply early decision really, really want to go to that school. This gives your college application an advantage over the wider pool, because the college has no way of knowing who among its accepted applicants will actually choose to attend. So they’ll give you priority—and you may have a better chance of being granted admission.
You know earlier than most if you’ve been accepted
If you’re accepted on an early decision basis, you’re likely to know by December or January whether or not you got in—much sooner than other students, who’ll know in the spring. This can make the rest of your senior year much less stressful.
If you get in, you can’t accept anywhere else
The big drawback to applying early decision is that if you get in, you’re locked into that college. So if you do choose to apply early decision, you’d better be sure that’s where you want to go.
Your later senior year transcript won’t be a part of the college’s decision
Students who apply early decision typically apply in November—and your first semester grades for senior year may not be finalized yet. If you need that time to pull up your grades or SAT scores, or if you want a big extracurricular commitment or internship that you’re taking on later in your senior year to be counted, you may be better off leaving some more time before applying to schools.
You limit your financial aid opportunities
When you get into a school on an early decision basis, you’re not just stuck with that school—you’re stuck with the financial aid package they offer you. When you apply to several different schools under a regular schedule, you have more time to weigh financial aid offers, negotiate and pick the school that gives you the best deal. Unless money isn’t an issue for you or the school you’re applying to is generally more affordable than other options you’re considering, you may be better off not applying early decision.
Early Decision or Early Action?
If you want to apply early but aren’t completely sure this is the college you’ll want to go to, consider applying early action instead. Early action is an alternative to early decision that allows you to wait until the spring to respond to an acceptance letter, so you can weigh acceptances from other colleges. Under this plan, you can also apply early action to other schools, and you’re not bound to that college if you’re accepted.
Not all schools offer the same type of early action plan, or any early decision or early action plan at all. Some schools offer a “single-choice” early action option that also isn’t binding, but it doesn’t permit you to apply under an early action plan to other schools.
In general, it’s not a good idea to apply under an early decision, early action or single choice early action plan unless you’re at least pretty sure that this is the school you want to go to. Early action and single choice early action plans are a bit less stringent than early decision, but if you plan to weigh several different financial aid offers or just aren’t sure, it’s best to apply under a regular admissions schedule.
In addition, the early decision schedule generally happens before a large part of your senior year has been completed—so it’s best to hold off if you feel you need that time to make your transcript and application more competitive. But if you know what school you want to go to and have a strong transcript by the beginning of your senior year, early decision may be the best option for you.
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