In what cases would you recommend applying early decision?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

In what cases would you recommend applying early decision?

Reecy Aresty
College Admissions/Financial Aid Expert & Author Payless For College, Inc.

In what cases would you recommend applying early decision?

If financial aid is of no consequence, the student is a legacy student, or there are no other schools the student desires to apply to.

Scott Herrmann-Keeling
College Counselor

In what cases would you recommend applying early decision?

My take on this question is a little different from what I often hear. Certainly, if you have a clear first-choice school that offers an e.d. option, you should take advantage of it. That is your best way to tell a school, "I want to be there." And schools generally like to hear that. I also believe, though, that if you legitimately cannot decide between two or more schools that only offer e.d. options (as opposed to e.a.), there's no reason not to pick one and apply e.d. This course of action comes with a small caveat: you know yourself. Are you likely to change your mind between November and May and decide you wish you hadn't committed yourself to a particular instiution? If so, e.d. is not for you under any circumstances. But if you're likely to change your mind between November and May, who's to say you won't change it again over the summer? It has to stop sometime.

Ryan Aldrich
Director of College Counseling The White Mountain School

In what cases would you recommend applying early decision?

You should apply under an early decision or action plan only if you are entirely confident of the college you want to attend. These plans make a lot of sense if one college is your clear preference and if your profile closely matches that of the students at that college. Do not apply under an early decision or action plan if you plan to weigh offers and financial aid packages from several colleges later in the spring. Also, you shouldn't apply early if it is to your advantage to have more of your senior year work to show a college. If you plan to woo an admission office with your excellent grades this year, you may want to wait until after the semester ends to apply to colleges.

Benjamin Caldarelli
Partner Princeton College Consulting, LLC

In what cases would you recommend applying early decision?

It depends, but generally if the student was positive that a school is a first choice and the family is not concerned about comparing financial aid awards from different schools it might make sense.

Lora Lewis
Educational Consultant Lora Lewis Consulting

In what cases would you recommend applying early decision?

If you're absolutely, positively sure a school is your #1 choice, go for early decision. But if you can even remotely envision a scenario where you receive an acceptance from your ED school and you aren't literally jumping for joy, stick to Early Action or Regular Decision. Early Decision is a binding agreement, which means if you're accepted, you've got to attend. That's a commitment many students aren't prepared to make.

Rebecca Joseph
Executive Director & Founder getmetocollege.org

In what cases would you recommend applying early decision?

Apply EARLY DECISION only if: 1. If you LOVE LOVE LOVE the college!!! Applying EARLY DECISION lets them know you want them and only them. 2. If you actually have a shot of getting in. Don't waste an early decision application on a school that you have no chance of getting into. 3. If your record is strong as it is. You don't need December test scores or fall grades. 4. If you don't want to know what other colleges you can get into. 5. If you and your family can afford the college. 6. If you have some connection to the college, and EARLY DECISION is where you get benefits because of that connection.

Edward LaMeire
CEO LaMeire College Consulting (lameirecollegeconsulting.com)

In what cases would you recommend applying early decision?

I would push ED on a student with the following make-up: 1. The school is one that they're legitimately interested in. They've spoken with school representatives. Hopefully, they've visited. This doesn't have to be "the dream school," but it does need to be one that they could realistically (and joyfully) see themselves becoming a part of. 2. Unless it's "the dream school," the school should not be too far out of reach, nor should it be a safety; students only really get one Early Decision application, and it shouldn't be wasted. A 3.6 GPA with a 2000 on the SAT shouldn't use ED on Columbia, but on an application that's not quite so far out of reach...maybe Carnegie Mellon. Similarly, a 3.9 unweighted with a 2380 should certainly not use ED on Carnegie Mellon; the student will be a straight admit sans ED. In short, choose a school that would be tough without the "ED bonus," but not impossible. 3. They could potentially afford to pay the tuition (minus any federal aid). This factor, though, is certainly not a deal-breaker. To begin, the only truly legitimate reason for pulling out of an ED agreement is due to unmet need. If you're admitted and you ultimately can't afford to attend, no harm no foul. More optimistically, though, while colleges are not beholden to offer ED admits institutional aid or scholarship money, they generally do a pretty good job of ponying up...specifically the top-tier schools. It has come to the point where it appears as though the Ivies, for instance, are all concerned with one-upping each other regarding college affordability. It's somewhat unusual that the "best" are also the most affordable, but that's the direction that college admissions are moving.

Nancy Milne
Owner Milne Collegiate Consulting

In what cases would you recommend applying early decision?

I recommend applying early decision in only 2 situations: One, if you have absolutely no financial concerns so your decision is not dependent on an award package. Two, if you have known your WHOLE life that this is the school for you and you will just die if you don't go there. I think at age 18 if is hard to know anything for sure, so proceed accordingly.

Diana Hanson
Common Sense College Counseling College Mentors

In what cases would you recommend applying early decision?

If you have a number 1 college on your list, a college that you so love that if you get admitted, you'd be ready to pack your bags, then consider applying early decision. There are a couple of items, though, to take into consideration before applying ED: I. If your 'dream' college is a super reach (your grades/test scores are at the low end or below the middle 50% for that college), you may want to hold off and apply regular decision so that the college will see your 1st semester grades. 2. If financial aid is an issue--i.e. you can only afford to attend if you get a certain amount of money--make sure you look into the college's financial aid policies for ED. If it's a CSS Profile college, fill out an early Profile to send along at the same time as the application, so the college can give you a financial aid estimate along with your admission decision. I also strongly recommend that you use a FAFSA forecaster (access it at studentaid.gov or fafsa.ed.gov) to determine your amount of need. Many colleges promise to meet full NEED, but there can be a huge gap between what the government says your need is and how much you can actually pay.

Daniel Kramer
College Advisor The Wight Foundation

In what cases would you recommend applying early decision?

I only recommend a student apply to a college or university under an early decision agreement after they have done exhaustive research on what they school has to offer both academically and financially. They should visit at least twice. They should sit in on a class. They should spend the night if possible. They should most certainly visit, tour and interview. Most importantly, they should ensure with their parents that the total cost of attendance after financial aid is a figure they can afford. I discourage early decision applications to any college or university that does not in explicit terms guarantee to meet a student's full financial need. I also warn them that a student's financial need on paper may not align with a student's financial reality. Just because a FAFSA gives an expected family contribution (EFC) upon submitting that form does not mean a college or university will come up with that same figure, especially if that school utilized the CSS Profile, a much more detailed financial aid form used by a number of highly selective institutions.