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Applying Early Decision: 10 Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is early decision, and how does it work?

Early decision is a college admissions option available at some schools where prospective students typically apply in early to mid-November and receive a decision by mid- to late November.

If admitted under ED, applicants must enroll at that institution, with few exceptions, and withdraw any submitted applications to other colleges. Applicants may only apply ED to one school, experts say, so that university should be their first choice.

In comparison, through regular decision, students may submit applications by set deadlines, usually in early winter, for a decision by April 1.

2. What’s the difference between ED and early action?

Similar to ED, early action enables students to apply and receive an admission decision earlier than those who apply regular decision. But early action typically isn’t binding, meaning admitted students may ultimately choose whether to enroll, says Bill Conley, vice president for enrollment management at Bucknell University, a private National Liberal Arts College in Pennsylvania.

3. Does ED increase my odds of getting admitted?

Qualified ED applicants can sometimes gain an advantage because they are expressing the strongest possible interest in the university, experts say. However, this varies overall and depends on several factors.

According to U.S. News data, the average ED acceptance rate at the top 20 National Liberal Arts Colleges was 38.8 percent for fall 2016, compared with an 18.8 percent average general acceptance rate.

Tim Wolfe, associate provost for enrollment and dean of admission at William & Mary in Virginia, says students who apply to the school ED versus regular decision tend to have similar academic profiles. But ED applicant pools are typically smaller.

“By nature, it allows the admission officers a chance to, I think, look that much more closely at those students,” Wolfe says.

4. What schools offer ED?

ED is more prevalent at private colleges and universities, although some public universities offer the option, says Andrew Belasco, CEO at College Transitions, an admissions consulting company.

5. What happens if I back out of an ED offer?

Although rare, experts say applicants should only back out if they can’t afford the tuition, either because the financial aid package isn’t sufficient or their financial situations changed. Documentation may also be required as proof.

Though a school likely won’t force an applicant who backs out to pay tuition, it may share with other universities a list of its admitted ED applicants, making it tougher to be admitted elsewhere, Belasco says. A high school counselor may also refuse to submit the student’s transcripts to additional schools.

6. Can I withdraw my application before a decision is reached?

Generally, yes – but that may indicate to colleges that an applicant isn’t as interested anymore, which may decrease the odds of being accepted regular decision, says Nancy Beane, associate director of college counseling at the Westminster Schools in Atlanta and immediate past president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

7. How does applying ED affect financial aid?

A downside to applying ED is the inability to compare financial aid packages from multiple colleges, experts say. Belasco says ED applicants may also miss out on certain scholarship and merit aid opportunities.

Conley, from Bucknell, says contrary to what some prospective students believe, applying ED won’t necessarily result in a smaller financial aid package. Students and their families can also use a net price calculator to determine an estimated aid package.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, as of last year, is available to applicants Oct. 1 rather than Jan. 1, and experts say that change may give students a better sense of their aid prior to regular decision deadlines.

8. What does it mean to get deferred under ED?

Getting deferred, as opposed to accepted or rejected, means a school is still interested in the applicant, says Beane, and will review their application again in the spring, though the odds of admittance can be slim. Generally, getting deferred means admissions officers need more information, such as fall semester grades, before reaching a final decision.

9. What is ED II?

A few universities also offer ED II, where generally students apply around early January and receive a binding decision by February. This may be a good choice for those who were rejected or deferred from another university under ED I, experts say. It may also make sense for those who didn’t take the SAT or ACT in time to meet the ED I deadline or who initially weren’t ready to commit to a certain school.

10. Are my senior year grades considered ?

Schools will generally look at an applicant’s first quarter grades, if provided, but not all schools require them, Belasco says.

And if admitted via ED, incoming college students shouldn’t let their senior year grades drop dramatically, Wolfe says. Though it’s rare, a college may choose to rescind its offer.

“All admission offers, whether early decision or regular decision, are contingent on continued strong academic performance,” Wolfe says. “And we review all final transcripts.”


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