Is early decision really binding, or can I still get out of it?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

Is early decision really binding, or can I still get out of it?

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

Is early decision really binding, or can I still get out of it?

At ED schools it's binding & you can get out of it - but in May where will you apply? Wash U in St. Louis has an ED program with a Dec. 31st deposit date; no deposit, no binding contract. But it's still very late in the game to start applying in Jan.

Scott Herrmann-Keeling
College Counselor

Is early decision really binding, or can I still get out of it?

The answer is it's both. Yes, it's really binding. You, your college counselor, and your parents will all sign a piece of paper indicating that you understand the binding nature of the commitment you are making and that you will attend if admitted. That said, nobody is going to show up at your house with a pair of handcuffs if something happens and you are unable to to attend. Notice I use the word 'unable.' That's different from, "I changed my mind and would rather go someplace else." 'Unable' means there's been a significant change in your situation in a way that affects either your ability to pay for school or your ability to physically be present on campus. Perhaps a financial aid package with the institution didn't work out, or maybe a parent has passed away or a family business has gone under. If any of those things happen, make sure to speak with someone in the financial aid department before deciding it's impossible to attend. Or perhaps you've had a serious health issue or accident. If that happens, look into taking a gap year - postponing your enrollment at your school - before deciding it's impossible to attend. An early decision agreement is serious. You should make every effort to adhere to the commitment you agree to when you apply.

Ryan Aldrich
Director of College Counseling The White Mountain School

Is early decision really binding, or can I still get out of it?

Early Decision is binding. Ethically, the only way it would not be binding is if the financial aid was not enough for the family to afford and this was discussed early in the process.

Sarah Contomichalos
Manager Educational Advisory Services, LLC

Is early decision really binding, or can I still get out of it?

The only way you can "get out of it" is if you can not afford to attend based on the financial aid package offered. Students requiring FA are generally advised to apply RD so that they have the opportunity to compare packages from different colleges.

Benjamin Caldarelli
Partner Princeton College Consulting, LLC

Is early decision really binding, or can I still get out of it?

It is really binding. If your family's financial circumstances change substantially and unexpectedly however, you will be able to change your plans.

Lora Lewis
Educational Consultant Lora Lewis Consulting

Is early decision really binding, or can I still get out of it?

Binding means binding. In rare cases where you absolutely cannot afford the cost of attendance and the school can't help you cover the costs, you might be able to get out of your commitment. You certainly can't say "no, thanks" just because you decided you prefer another campus or you want to go to school where your new girl/boyfriend got in. Do your research before you apply, both to make sure the school is absolutely, positively your first choice and that you will be able to afford it given the average financial aid package the school offers. Save yourself and the school grief and don't apply ED if you're counting on receiving every scholarship they offer in order to meet the cost of attendance. For many people, early action (non-binding) and regular decisions are more comfortable options. Only you can can decide if ED is best for you. Just remember that signing on that electronic line is as serious as a quadruple pinkie-promise; once you make it, there's no going back.

Rebecca Joseph
Executive Director & Founder getmetocollege.org

Is early decision really binding, or can I still get out of it?

EARLY DECISION IS LEGALLY BINDING. There is no real way to get out except if you truly can't afford to go. Then perhaps you would go to a community college or lower level state university as no other private college will allow you to accept once they know you got into EARLY DECISION college. So you need to know that you love the college and that you and your family can afford it. Buyer's remorse is typical, but you need to work your way through it.

Edward LaMeire
CEO LaMeire College Consulting (lameirecollegeconsulting.com)

Is early decision really binding, or can I still get out of it?

If you pull out of an ED agreement, there needs to be a ludicrously convincing reason why. The only publicly accepted rationale is lack of ability to pay, but one would imagine that there are other legitimate excuses (student needs to stay close to home to help a relative, assist with running a business, etc.). Does the school have any legal recourse if you pull out of the agreement? No, but you can rest assured that the school will remember it. And, when students apply ED from your high school in the future, admissions offices will have some serious questions about how extensively the counselors at that school have explained what responsibilities ED entails. You won't pay, but I'd be surprised if someone down the line didn't.

Nancy Milne
Owner Milne Collegiate Consulting

Is early decision really binding, or can I still get out of it?

Early decision IS binding. In the rare situation, with documentation, you may be released from the commitment. Realize that this could impact future applications and proceed cautiously. This is why I prefer early action options to early decision.

Andrew Belasco
CEO College Transitions LLC

Is early decision really binding, or can I still get out of it?

Generally speaking, Early Decision is binding and breaking an ED agreement usually leads to severe consequences. For example, students breaking ED agreements are often "blacklisted" by their "ED" college and prevented from enrolling at any of their other prospective institutions for at least one year (i.e., your ED college notifies your other prospective college and any other admission offers are subsequently rescinded). However, in certain extenuating circumstances, a college will consider releasing you from your ED agreement. For instance, "needy" applicants who can demonstrate that they have not received sufficient financial aid may be allowed to attend elsewhere; however the burden of proof is high and often rests with the student.