Some colleges and universities in the United States have Early Decision (ED) admissions policies. This means that you can apply and be accepted to the school ahead of the regular applicant pool. Unlike Early Action (EA), you can only apply to one ED school and if you are accepted, you're obligated to attend. So only use this option if you are absolutely 100% sure you want to go to that school.
Policies vary from school to school, but in most cases, Early Decision applications are usually due by the beginning of November and you will be notified of the school's decision by early to mid-December.
Who Should Take Advantage of Early Decision
You should only be considering this option if the school is your #1 top choice. This means that you have done extensive research and have no doubt that it is the right place for you. It is highly advisable that you visit the campus in person and talk with a number of alumni. If you haven't done so, then you're probably not a good candidate for ED.
Most schools have a higher acceptance rate for ED applications, but not automatically. ED puts your application on the top of the stack and signals that you have researched the school and it is your #1 choice. Your application should be detailed and specific as to why you want to attend, and how you think that school would be right for you academically and socially.
Remember, you can only apply to one ED school, but you can still submit regular applications to other schools. If you're accepted you will be required to immediately withdraw all other applications.
If your ED application is rejected, you will automatically be placed in the school's regular application pool. If this is the case, you will have until the spring deadline to accept offers from this or any other school to which you applied.
Who Should Not Apply For Early Decision
Early Decisions are exclusive and binding. As stated above, if you're not totally sure about a school, don't exercise this option! All ED applications require a non-refundable enrollment deposit. It is a significant financial commitment that underscores the seriousness of Early Decisions.
One big problem with Early Decisions is financial aid. You will have to commit to a school before knowing anything about your financial aid package. For some families, this makes the ED process unrealistic. You simply can't be certain about a school if you don't know whether or not you can afford it.
For this reason, more and more schools are eliminating Early Decisions. It is seen as giving an unfair advantage to wealthy families who don't need to consider financial aid. In rare cases, ED contracts can be broken if the financial aid package is insufficient, but this is extremely rare.
Is Early Decision For Everyone?
Early Decision is an option that only certain students should pursue. You need to be positive that the school is where you want to be. If not, you may want to consider schools with Early Action admissions, although this policy is more rare. Otherwise, you should submit regular applications. As always, it still helps to submit these as early as they are allowed.