Early Decision (ED) is an early round of the college application process.  Students generally must apply ED prior to the regular college admission deadlines.  When a student applies ED, the decision is binding.  This means that they are locked into attending if admitted, regardless of whether or not other colleges accept them as well.

Most colleges are shifting toward Early Decision, and some even prioritize it. Nearly all liberal arts colleges offer ED as do many name-brand private universities. Therefore, applying ED is the best way to improve a student’s chances for admission. This is because the college knows that it’s the student’s first choice and that the student will definitely attend if accepted.  This gives the college a high yield rate, and makes it appear prestigious. (If you missed our post on yield, check it out here.)

If a student is 100% sure he or she wants to attend a certain college, we would strongly encourage that student to apply ED. It’s important to note that at some schools (UPenn, for example) legacy affiliation is only taken into consideration in the ED round.   Also at certain colleges there are even more perks to applying ED, such as being able to take advantage of on-campus interviews.

Liberal arts colleges and high tier universities are not the only ones that offer ED. Approximately half of the “Top 20” universities offer an ED option, the exceptions being Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Chicago, Stanford, MIT, Caltech, Notre Dame and Berkeley. These schools do have an early option that is similar to ED called Early Action (EA).  EA is exactly the same as ED, except EA is non-binding, meaning that the student is free to reject the colleges offer of admission.  Because an EA decision is not binding, it is a little more difficult to get into these “Top 20” EA schools than their “Top 20” ED counterparts.

Of course for students in Fairfield Country, liberal arts colleges are extremely popular and you’ll be happy to know that the vast majority, if not all liberal arts colleges, have ED systems in place. Most colleges have ED deadlines around the first of November, so it’s imperative to decide over the summer where (and if) you want to apply ED.  In addition, there are two cycles of Early Decision, one early on in the application process (ED1), and one during the regular application time period (ED2).

What we suggest is for students to apply to a far reach in the ED1 cycle (generally from mid October to early November), and if they don’t get in, then apply to a shorter reach in the ED2 cycle (generally from December to January). However, ED2 is far less common than ED1 and a full list of schools that offer it can be found here. Most ED2 deadlines are around the first of January and are binding under the same terms of the ED1 contract. Both rounds – ED1 and ED2 – are binding. Therefore if a student is accepted he/she must attend.

A sample school selection/decision plan that we might suggest would consist of something along these lines: A student applies ED1 to their top choice. If that doesn’t result in an acceptance, then (if possible) they should apply to their second choice ED2. Note that the regular decision application period coincides with the ED2 round. We suggest that during this time a student apply to 3-6 top choice colleges, as well as complete applications to one or two safety schools.

We encourage our students to take full advantage of the ED option. Not only is it a great way to communicate enthusiasm and commitment to your first choice pick, but it also helps students prioritize which schools are most important.