A frequent topic of conversation that is coming up with many seniors these days is Early Decision and whether this option is a good fit for them. Students should apply to a college Early Decision if it is their first choice and the school is an affordable option for the student’s family. If financial aid is going to be a significant determinant in a student’s final college choice, then applying to colleges Early Action and Regular Decision may be the better path to take so that families can compare financial aid packages in the spring of 12th grade. When students apply to a college Early Decision, they enter into a binding contract to attend the college if admitted. There are exceptions to this rule when a student applies for financial aid and receives a package that is not sufficient for the family, even after appealing to the college for more funding. That said, students should not enter into an Early Decision agreement with the intent of possibly breaking the contract.
Many families ask me if applying to a college Early Decision is wise given that numerous colleges accept a higher percentage of applicants during Early Decision than in Regular Decision. While this may be the case at some schools, the reality is that colleges do not change their standards or expectations for an applicant’s qualifications in the different admission decision plans. If a college is considered a “reach school” for a student, it will be a “reach school” whether the student applies to that school Early Decision or Regular Decision. Are the student’s odds of getting accepted during Early Decision really that much better in this situation? The answer is probably not.
Some students want to apply to a college just to finish their application process early and avoid the stress that comes with waiting for admission decisions to arrive in the spring. We need to remember that choosing a college is a serious decision and also a significant investment. The college could be the student’s home for the next 4 years and serve as an important resource throughout a student’s lifetime. Choosing a college is a decision that should be made carefully. The desire to avoid the stress of the application process or take advantage of a school’s higher Early Decision acceptance rate should not drive a student’s motivation to apply to a college Early Decision.
High school seniors should cautiously weigh their options and consult parents and school/independent college counselors before committing to an Early Decision agreement with a college. Choosing a college to attend is one of the most important decisions that teenagers and their families will make. It shouldn’t be taken lightly.