Weighing the Pros and Cons of Early Decision

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Young woman holding her books while walking.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Early Decision

Applying early action or early decisions gives high school seniors the freedom to apply with less stress and additional opportunities for admission. Many students enter the college application process with their minds set on a school of their choice. They have done the research, and they may even have identified their target school early in their high school career. Having an intense passion to attend a school can help a high schooler to focus their energy and effort on applying early. Learn the pros and cons of applying early.

The decision to apply early comes with some definite benefits and some drawbacks. There are different ways to apply ahead of the regular deadlines, and each school’s options will vary based on how they review each type of application submitted early. Let’s learn what each type of early admission looks like and discuss the pros and cons of applying early, so we can help you figure out if it is a bad or good idea for you to do early decision.

Types of Early Application

You’ll have at least two or three options for applying early, but some schools may offer as many as four or five different ways to apply and more about the pros and cons of applying early.

This means carefully considering how each option for early decision will benefit you and make the application process more streamlined. Schools may offer early action, several different types of early decision, restrictive early action, and regular decision.

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Early Action

The first option for applying early gives students more freedom than some of the other options. Early Action is a nonbinding admissions process in which students submit applications early in advance of the regular decision deadline. The deadline usually falls in November, and students receive admission results by December.

Once you’ve received your early action admission results, you are free to accept or decline the offer of admission. This allows you to still wait for other admissions decisions, if you do apply regularly to other schools.

Early action is the choice if you want to make sure you get into a target school, so that other alternatives can be used for comparison rather than desperation. University of Chicago and University of Michigan offer early action.

Early Decision Type 1

Some schools may offer a type of early decision that is binding with a sooner deadline. Early decision type one gives students the option to apply early, most often with deadlines in November and decision notifications released in December. But, the difference from early action is that students are bound the admissions decision.

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The binding admission process requires students to accept the offer of admission, even if they get other offers of admission. This option for applying early has its own pros and cons of early decision because you are limited to the number of schools you can apply to, and you have no freedom in choosing any other schools based on more favorable comparisons. You will want to do a significant amount of research and be absolutely sure that you want to attend the school to which you submit an early decision application.

But don’t worry, there is always an exception and a caveat. If you have a good reason why you have to back out of an offer of admission from early decision, then you can inform the college admissions. Good reasons typically include financial affordability, which can also open conversations about getting additional funding.

Having to back out because you prefer a different school or no longer wish to travel to a new state may be less persuasive, but being honest with the school can reduce any penalties you might face.

Technically, you should only use early decision if you are certain of a school’s fitness for your future, but things do happen, and situations change. Early decision is binding, though, so think about this when you are selecting schools to apply early. Columbia University and Cornell University offer early decision type one.

Early Decision Type 2

The second type of early decision is similarly a binding admission, but the deadline is typically in January in the second semester of the year. Students receive their admission results in Mid-February. This gives students additional options with their admissions process. They can combine admission types by applying to their top schools with early decision deadlines in November, and if they are not admitted, they will still have time to apply early decision in January.

Compared to the first type, the second type of early decisions does give a bit more flexibility. You’ll have the option to weigh your options and keep backup plans in place just in case. This is a great option if you want to apply to a dream school that is also a reach school early decision in November, and then applying to your target schools in January in the event your December results do not secure your admission.

Restrictive Early Action

A third type of early application is less flexible than early action, but has more significant limitations than early decision. Some schools refer to restrictive early action as single-choice early action. This means that students can only apply to a single-choice early action university in the early round.

That means you will only be able to apply to one school in the early round, with deadlines in November, but there are some expectations for applications to other non binding admissions and international schools. The admissions results are released in December.

Students walking in the school campus.

Single-choice early action is binding admission, and should be reserved for schools that are both target schools with a high probability of admission and schools where your passion for attendance is so intense that you want admissions to know you are only applying there. Schools that offer restrictive early action are Harvard and Yale University.

Regular Decision

Despite the option to apply early, most high school students will end up submitting regular decision applications. The deadline for regular decisions is usually in January with notifications in March and April. Students have no obligation to commit to regular decision admissions, so they can compare and contrast different schools where they receive admissions.

Every college offers admissions in a regular decision, but the difference is that students who apply early decision type two can receive their admissions results in February instead of late March at the earliest. This gives students the opportunity to submit applications using early decision type two along with applications with regular decision deadlines.

This option may not reduce any of the stress of applying to multiple schools, as you will still be turning in applications around the same time as everyone else applying. The only advantage here is being able to apply to multiple schools with no restrictions and have back-up plans in the event any other early admissions applications are not successful.

Acceptance Rates

You may be wondering do you truly have a better chance of getting into college with early decision? Many schools have significantly different acceptance rates for students who apply early action and early decision compared to regular decision. This is part of the pros and cons of applying early.

For example, at Harvard University, a school that is notorious for being highly selective and admitting only a small portion of total applications. Harvard’s early decision and early action acceptance rate is 7.4 percent compared to 3.4 percent acceptance of regular decision applicants. This shows clearly that Harvard admits almost double the number of students who apply early.

Two female students studying in a living room.

Clearly, applying ahead of regular deadlines will give you more than double the odds of being admitted. Other Ivy Leagues that have an increased acceptance rate for early action applications include Yale University, who admits 10.5 percent during early action compared to 4.6 percent regular decision; University of Pennsylvania, with 15 percent compared to 5.7 percent.

Dartmouth College was the most surprising with a 21.2 percent admission rate for early action admissions compared to 6.2 percent regular decision. Similarly, Brown University admits 15.9 percent of applicants early compared to 5.4 percent during regular decision.

These numbers are astounding! It is safe to say that you do have a  better chance of getting into college with early decision. Based on the acceptance rates alone, there is a tremendous benefit to applying early decision. The list of pros and cons of applying early will show that there are more benefits and disadvantages.


Some of the pros of applying early action, early decision, and single-choice include:

  • Admission results arrive earlier than other high schoolers. You can avoid the jitters of waiting until after winter break to find out your admissions results. You’ll also have to respond earlier, too, so you can know where you’ll be going by the time the second semester starts in January.
  • You’ll submit just one application. Restrictive early action, early action, and early decision are all options that limit your applications to just one school. You will only need to put together application materials for one school, which will limit your costs and the time you’ll have to spend answering different application questions and sending transcripts to multiple schools.
  • Even if you apply early, you may still have additional time to make your decision. Some schools may require admissions decisions sooner, but most will give you until May to submit your decision. This does give you additional time to truly weigh your interest, schedule a campus tour if you haven’t already, and determine if there might be additional funding for your college expenses.
  • The applicant pool is smaller, and the acceptance rate is higher. The number of students who apply early will be much smaller than the number of students who apply regular decision. This means that you’ll have a much higher chance of standing out and gaining admission. The acceptance rates are also two to three times higher in early action and early decision than in regular decision. This advantage cannot be understated. Applying early is an obvious pro for this fact alone.
  • A rejection during early action and early decision may not completely rule out your student’s offer of admission. Students who apply early have the option to continue into the regular decision application process. Their applications are reconsidered with the larger pool of applicants. Students essentially have a second chance to have their application in front of the admissions offers. This is great odds and could potentially improve their chances of being admitted.
  • You can save money and only end up applying to one school. Applying early limits you to just one application fee and one set of test scores, if you choose to submit them. This gives you less risk as you have to invest less at the start.


Despite all the benefits to early decision, there are some clear cons that we should discuss:

  • Application materials need to be completed sooner. Your peers will have until January to gather and submit their application materials, but you will need to finish before the end of the first semester. You’ll have to plan ahead and make sure your standardized tests are scheduled with enough time to get results back by your deadline as well. The same goes for letters of recommendation and completing your college essays. You’ll be on a more intense timeline, but you’ll also have more time to relax and focus on finishing your senior year once the applications are submitted.
  • You are under obligation to accept the offer of admission. This is only a con if you apply to a school that is not a good fit for you. The option to apply early should be used only in circumstances where you are absolutely positive a school will offer you the best financial aid package and a better college experience than you can get anywhere else. This can be difficult to pin down without being able to actually predict the future, though, so you’re out of luck on crystal balls.
  • You’ll have to accept whatever financial aid package is offered. Applying early means you won’t have other schools to compare your funding offers. You’ll have to accept what the school offers, apply for additional outside scholarships and possibly loans, or have to give a financial reason as the cause of your inability to accept the admissions offer.
  • You won’t have your first semester of senior year’s grades. Applying early means that you may only have received a progress or mid-semester report for your senior year. You won’t have that first semester of senior year grades to boost your GPA and include with your application. This means that your freshman, sophomore, and junior year grades will become that much more important. You’ll need to have a very strong academic record to compete without your senior year performance included.
  • Students who apply early tend to be just as high achieving and committed, with obviously great time management. This means that you may have a harder time standing out with your application. When all the applicants have stellar, impeccable academic records, there may be even more challenges to get admitted under these circumstances.

Advantages and Benefits

The pros and cons of applying early make the decision one that should be considered through several different perspectives. As the high school student, you’ll have more responsibility to work hard throughout your high school career and begin putting together your application materials almost as soon as senior year begins.

If you know you have a great academic record, your application materials are fully ready by the deadline, and there are no other schools you’ll



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