What Is Early Decision?

December 31, 2022
By AdmissionSight

What Is Early Decision?

Early decision is a legally binding agreement between a student and a higher education institution in which the student agrees to attend the school if offered early admission.

Under the early decision application process, students can only apply to one institution. The application deadline is usually around November 1.

In December, early decision applicants are notified of a school’s decision. If accepted, the student must withdraw all other applications and send a non-refundable deposit to their preferred school by May 1.

What happens if an applicant is not accepted via the early decision application process?

If a student does not receive acceptance through the early decision application process, they will be rejected or deferred.

Early action applications, unlike early decision applications, do not constitute a binding commitment to enroll, and candidates may decline a school’s offer if accepted.

Young female student smiling at the camera.

Rejected early decision applicants may reapply to other institutions through the regular application process the following year, or they may reapply to the same institution.

During the second round of candidates or the regular admission period, an institution may reconsider deferred early decision applicants. Applicants with deferred status are free of their binding agreement and may apply to other schools.

What kind of students should apply for early decision?

What kind of students should apply for early decision? Early decision is ideal for well-prepared applicants who are certain of their commitment to their top school.

Early decision applicants typically:

  • Approach teachers about letters of recommendation early (around halfway through their junior year of high school).
  • They have done extensive research on the college or university of their choice and are confident that they will fit in academically and socially.
  • Take the Student Aptitude Test (SAT) by October of the year they apply.

What is an early decision application?

What is an early decision application? A prompt decision College admissions deadlines are rapidly approaching. Perhaps you have everything in order and the only thing left to do is submit your application. But, before you hit send, make sure you’re aware of these four of what is an early decision application.

View of a female student talking in front of two people.

Early decision (ED) is a single-choice option, which means you can only apply to one college. As the name implies, you’ll submit your application earlier than usual, usually in October or November, and you’ll hear back in the winter, usually in December. Some colleges offer an early decision II plan with a timeline closer to regular decision, which we’ll go over in more detail below.

One thing to remember about early decision is that, unlike early action plans, decisions are binding, which means that if you are admitted, you must matriculate at the college that accepted you.

What exactly is restrictive early action?

What exactly is restrictive early action? Single-choice early action is another term for restrictive early action. In essence, limiting early action tells the college that they are your top choice. If you want to use restrictive early action, you must sign a contract with the school stating that you will only file one early action application at a private school – their school. You are not contractually obligated to attend the school upon admission, as you would be if you applied early decision, but you are barred from applying to other private schools early action.

Some schools’ restrictive early action requirements may even prevent you from applying early decision to another school. Princeton is one such institution. It does not have early decision, but it does have restrictive early action, which prevents you from applying to other private institutions for early decision or early action, with some exceptions for international institutions and colleges with rolling admissions.

Is an early decision a good idea?

Is an early decision a good idea? If you’re a high school senior, your life is probably made up of stacks of colorful college brochures, scribbled pros-and-cons lists, and books about applying to college, all piled so high around you that you’re wondering where the light at the end of the tunnel went. Let’s face it: you’ve only just begun the college application process, and you’re eager for it to be over!

View of college students studying in a room with a table.

Early decision is a college application process that requires students to complete their applications by November 1st. Each student can only apply to one college early decision, and she usually hears back by mid-December about her admission status.

Early decision, unlike early action and regular decision, is binding, which means that if you are accepted to your early-decision college, you are morally obligated to attend it and must withdraw all other college applications. Sounds like a big commitment, doesn’t it? Fortunately, Her Campus is here to assist you in determining whether an early decision is the best option for you. Check out the best and worst reasons to apply early decision to college!

Reasons to Apply Early Decision to College

1. You’ve done your homework.

All of those books, brochures, online comparisons, and college visits may seem time-consuming at first, but they will undoubtedly pay off in the end! You want to learn as much as possible about the colleges to which you apply to make an informed decision. If you’ve done your research thoroughly, you’ll have a better idea of which schools you want to apply to early decision.

“I am a huge believer in early decision for students who have done their college planning early enough to have visited enough colleges that they feel secure in making that choice,” says certified educational planner Judi Robinovitz.

Robinovitz recommends spending a full day on campus, attending classes, meeting with students and faculty, and, if possible, participating in a college-sponsored overnight preview program. Remember to look into the academic life, social life, recreational life, surrounding community, and transportation.

2. You just know a college is a place for you.

Sometimes you just know that a college is a right fit for you. “It’s like, how do you tell if you’re dating? “You’ve had a lot of boyfriends as a kid,” Robinovitz says. “How do you know when this is the one?” Something feels just right.” If one college just feels right, consider yourself and your dream college fortunate and send in that early decision application! “You should apply early decision if one college truly captures your heart and you’re willing to commit to that college that if you get in, you’ll go,” Robinovitz says. “It definitely improves your chances [of acceptance].”

Christina Madsen, a senior at Barnard, is a Campus Contributing Writer who is glad she applied early decision. “I knew my chances of getting in would be better as a legacy, and as a native New Yorker, I knew I wanted to stay in the city and that I thought I’d be really happy at Barnard,” Christina says. “I got in, so I was very pleased with my choice.”

3. You want to improve your chances of admission to your dream school.

So you’ve done extensive research and have your schools ranked from best to worst. What comes next? Applying early decision or early action is a good idea if you want to maximize your chances of getting into your dream school because it can often significantly increase your chances of being accepted. “Both early action and early decision tend to improve a candidate’s chances for admission, early decision much more so than early action, because, with very few exceptions, the percentage accepted early is significantly higher than the percentage accepted regular,” Robinovitz says.

Accepting more ED applicants benefits college admissions departments because they know that admitted ED students will definitely attend, and admissions departments are thus better able to shape the class very early in the process.

4. You have a strong application already.

Look at your application and see top-notch grades. With high involvement in extracurriculars and very high SAT or ACT scores, applying early decision to your top college may be a good idea to avoid competing with the regular applicant pool.

It can be very tempting to give yourself extra time during senior year to improve your grades and scores even more. Because you only get one shot at admission, this is a good idea if your dream college only admits or denies ED applicants with no chance of deferral. However, Robinovitz believes that the wait may not be necessary for many colleges that defer ED applicants.

5. You need to know where you’re going to school as soon as possible.

Like every other high school senior, you had no idea what actual stress was until you were well into the college application process. When you needed it, where was the forewarning?

If you’re experiencing anxiety and don’t want to wait months for admissions letter season, applying early decision may be a good option for you. It’ll be nice to know that you’ve been accepted to your top choice long before the envelopes arrive in the spring. After all, no one wants her senior year to be stressful! “You’re removing a lot of the stress of the process earlier and finding out sooner if you’ve gotten in,” Robinovitz says.

AdmissionSight is a college admissions specialist with the knowledge and experience required to assist high school students in preparing for early application. It may appear too good to be true, but it is not! AdmissionSight specializes in assisting students like you in better preparing for the college application process so that you can be accepted to your dream school.


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