OFTEN…YES, it does.

Ah…the admissions game has become more confusing to applications and more strategic for colleges as technology has opened the door to better predictability on the side of the schools and a need to mitigate risk from the point of view of students. Basically, colleges want to make offers to qualified students who will say YES! to their offer to attend their school. Early Decision is one way that they can predict acceptance, but does it increase your chances of acceptance? Yes, and maybe.

Early Decision is a binding decision. You will have to sign an agreement, along with your guidance counselor, that you will accept the college’s offer to attend. It is not a commitment to make lightly. It is not right for everyone. It depends on the college, the kind of student you are, and if you are really certain that this is where YOU want to go- 100%.

Early decision is a relatively new way to apply; it was first offered by a small group of elite New England colleges in the late 1850s (Amherst, Bowdoin, Dartmouth, Wesleyan, and Williams). By offering ED, these schools would not need to compete for their top-tier applicants. As stated by James Fallows in The Atlantic, “Early-decision programs—whereby a student applies early to a single school, receives an early answer, and promises to attend if accepted—have added an insane intensity to middle-class obsessions about college. They also distort the admissions process, rewarding the richest students from the most exclusive high schools and penalizing nearly everyone else. But the incentives for many colleges and students are as irresistible as they are perverse.

Most four-year schools offer several different types of admissions. Recently, there has been an uptick in the number of students applying in the early round of the application season. This early round is usually October 15- November 15th and the regular application season ranges from December to March; keep in mind there are also rolling admissions and it is important to check the university’s website to get the specific information for everywhere you plan to apply. 

Why go early? 

Early Decision is a ‘sure thing’ for the colleges since the student has signed a contract agreeing to attend; colleges are running a business, and they highly value their Early Decision applicants. Students show the college their “love” by selecting ED, and the colleges reciprocate by giving them an extra look and higher admit rates.

This trend has increased over the past decades as this round is often when the majority of merit aid is offered and it is a great way to show a school that you are ready. It is also the round filled with other “ready students”. Kids with enough activities, test scores and accolades without their senior year participation and grades,  to apply in the Fall. Are you ready? Or do you want to wait for the Regular Decision round? This choice may be for you if you need one more semester to show your upward trajectory in grades or leadership.

Early acceptance depends on which colleges you have on your list.  Many schools accept a higher percentage of students who apply for early decision compared to students who apply for regular decision. While this isn’t true for every school, the fact that it is common highlights that you will have a higher chance of being accepted early if you apply to certain schools. 

Remember: Early Decision (ED) is a binding commitment to attend the college you are applying to. When applying for early decision, you only apply to one school and are committed to enrolling upon acceptance. With early decision, if the financial aid awarded is insufficient, you may break your commitment to attend.

Early Decision VS Early Action

If you are ready to apply, but not really to commit to one school, early action is for you. It allows you to apply to many schools, compare offers, visit again, attend accepted students day, and possibly negotiate financial aid. 

Early Action (EA) is a non-binding early application. When applying early action you can apply to several schools and wait until you hear back from each before making your final decision.

Restrictive Early Action (REA) is non-binding as well. However, when applying restrictive early action, you apply early to only one school and cannot apply early under early decision or early action to any other private school. Most (if not all) universities that offer a restrictive early option do allow applicants to apply early action to public universities since public universities are often the best financial option for students.

Can I apply early decision and early action? Yes, but if the ED schools make an offer, you must rescind all other applications.

Things to Think About When Applying Early

Applying early is a big decision. It requires planning and preparation including bumping up your application timeline so that you can get your applications in by the early deadline in November. When thinking about applying early consider these things:

Are you prepared to commit to the school?

If you are applying early decision, your acceptance will be binding. You are committing to that school upon acceptance. If you aren’t completely sure you are dedicated to that school, applying early decision might not be for you. If you are sure that you want to apply early decision, applying to your top-choice school is the best method to ensure that you won’t have any doubt about your place at the school should you be accepted.

Do you have appropriate test scores?

Since you are applying in the fall of senior year, you should have SAT/ACT scores and a GPA you’re happy with before November. This means that you should be sufficiently prepared with appropriate scores by October. If you aren’t satisfied with those scores and won’t be able to put your best foot forward for early applications, regular decision might be the better option for you.

How is Financial Aid Affected When I Apply Early?

When applying early, you will also apply for financial aid early. When you receive your acceptance letter you will also receive your financial aid offer. If you are accepted under early decision, but the financial aid offer is not sufficient you are allowed to break your commitment to enroll.

There are pros and cons. The student may be able to back out of an early decision commitment for financial aid reasons,  but you lose your opportunity to compare financial aid packets with other schools. When it comes to merit-based aid and early decision, schools might not be incentivized to award merit aid to early decision students because those discounts are usually used to sweeten the offer letter and with and ED application, if they admit you, regardless of merit aid, you must attend.