Ahhh, the topic of Early Decision. It is always a fervent subject for the families that I work with. Everyone seems to think that they have discovered a “secret” within the art of admissions. More myths revolve around ED than almost any other area within college admissions. And it mainly has to do with an idea that “it is easier to get into a school through ED than regular decision”. But first let me state an unequivocal fact:
Early Decision is an advantage to the college, not necessarily the student.
Most of what follows will point back to this statement.
What is Early Decision Application?: Students will apply early, usually by November 1st, and indicate by checking off ED in the application that this is their first choice college. That is a binding agreement, and they will require the parents and school to also verify that they understand that this is a binding agreement. The student will then hear back on a decision (either Accept, Reject, or Deferred to later) by December 15th. If the student gets accepted, it is expected that they will rescind any applications to other colleges that they applied to, and/or not apply to any others. The college will also ask you to deposit, usually $300-600, to assure your seat.
What perpetuates the myth that it is easier to get in with ED applications?: Many colleges will accept 30 to 50 percent of their students through ED. This obviously makes the Regular Decision pool more competitive. The University of Pennsylvania, a very popular college for many Indian students, typically fills half of the incoming freshman class with early decision applicants. If one looks at the “Acceptance Rates” for Early Decision and Regular Decision, the latter is far lower, sometimes half as much, as the former. Personally, I find acceptance rates to be a big racket. I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had to have with students who have received very fancy letters on embossed stationary from an Ivy League school encouraging them to apply. Basically, the Acceptance Rate being low could mean that the college is very popular and gets many applications and accepts very few.
To see the Admissions Rates in different colleges through ED check out this site: http://bit.ly/14mvFii
So Why is ED not always an advantage?: The above data would make any family with common sense feel that they must take advantage of ED. And the truth is that colleges love to grab passionate students, most of whom can pay all costs, in the ED pool so that they do not have to compete with other colleges in April when all of the decisions are out. While most families will be anxious about getting into any college in the fall, the reality is that if they did their homework and picked good fit schools, the student will get into a few schools in April. ED takes that choice away.
As an independent counselor for several years, I can tell you that the most challenging, and exciting, time of year is April. So many of my students change their minds about what they thought was their first choice 6 months before. Plus, the student may have Merit/Scholarship money or Need-Based money to consider with all of their choices.
Colleges use ED applications to lock in the best in their pools, so families should probably only apply to schools where the student looks like a strong student in the pool. When a student mistakes the higher acceptance rate for meaning “easier to get in” and applies to a school that they are not a strong academic fit for, the student is wasting an application.
Who should apply ED?: