Is Early Decision right for you?

Portrait of a group of students standing in a college hallwayA high school student beginning the senior year is presented with a confusing array of choices. Early decision? Early Action? Rolling admissions? As the marketplace becomes increasingly competitive colleges and universities continue to search for a variety of ways to gather applicants. A savvy consumer would be wise to learn as much as possible about the myriad paths for application to each college to which he/she is applying.

Early decision is the most common alternate path for your application. Originally designed by a number of elite private colleges in order to facilitate the enrollment of as many “top shelf” applicants as soon as possible, early decision has attracted some controversy lately.

But first, how does it work? As the name suggests, the application deadline and the admission decision itself is sooner than an application to the regular applicant pool. All application materials need to be submitted by November 1st of the senior year. The response from the Admissions Office arrives before the Christmas holidays as compared to early April for candidates who use the traditional application path.

The Early Decision path requires the student to make the selection of a college by the end of the junior year. Why? Grades considered by the Admissions Committee will be end-of-the year grades from junior year. Likewise, if the SATs or ACTs are to be taken a second time, that should happen in the spring of the junior year. It follows that teacher references should be solicited from junior year teachers.

A student may apply Early Decision to only one college and if accepted, the applicant is obligated to attend. Benefits are many for the applicant as well as for the college. The student is making a statement, loud and clear, that this college is his/her first choice. The college will know sooner how successful it will be in filling its openings and the applicant has the benefit of getting an answer months before most applicants.

There is some controversy. Does Early Decision force the student to make a “first choice” judgment too soon developmentally? After all, the determination to apply early decision will almost certainly be made at the end of the junior year, as much as fifteen months before the beginning of freshman year in college.

Be an educated consumer. You’ll be glad you did.


David W. Clark, Ed.M. is an independent college admission consultant who has been working with high school students for more than thirty-five years. David’s website is worth visiting and he can be reached there.


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