Deciding to Apply Under an Early Decision Program

   What is Early Decision?

Most private colleges and some public universities have an early decision plan. Under this plan a student submits his or her credentials early, usually by November 1st or November 15th, and signs a binding statement that he or she will accept the college’s offer of admission. Some colleges also have Early Decision 2, with application deadlines in December or January and notification dates that are earlier than those for regular decision. Students can have only one early decision application active at a time.

Students who are accepted under early decision programs must attend that college and must withdraw all other applications.

Who should apply Early Decision?

  • Students who have researched colleges extensively, visited many colleges (likely including overnight stays and attending classes at their first choice college), and who are absolutely sure about their first choice.
  • Students who meet or exceed the admission profile of accepted students at their selected college, i.e. applicants with SAT Reasoning/Subject scores and G.P.A. that are similar to those of accepted students at their chosen college. (Students should have completed one round of SAT testing by October of their senior year. Some colleges will accept November test scores. Consult college websites or ask them in advance.)
  • Students who have an academic record that has been consistently solid over time. (If you know that your senior year grades will indicate improvement, you may fair better under regular decision.)
  • Students who do not need to compare financial aid packages in order to make their choice.

What are the Advantages of Early Decision Programs?

  • Your application is reviewed early and you receive notification of your admission status by December 15th.
  • If you are accepted, you avoid having to complete other applications.
  • Your application is reviewed against a smaller applicant pool.

What are the Disadvantages of an Early Decision Program?

  • If financial aid is important to you, you might want to be able to have additional colleges with possibly better financial aid packages to consider. Comparable colleges often offer very different packages, depending on their resources.
  • Students often grow and change during the senior year. You might discover other attractive options, but you would be bound by contract to attend the college you chose.
  • Students accepted early might have a false sense of security and could develop "terminal senioritis."

What are Some of the Mistakes Students Make in Choosing an Early Decision Program?

  • Applying to a college early without researching or visiting any other schools.
  • Applying to a college early just because the odds of admission might be higher.
  • Applying early to a college just to avoid extra paperwork and stress.
  • Applying early to a college because a friend is doing so.

What is Early Action?

Some colleges have Early Action programs similar to Early Decision in that you apply early to your college of choice (and to other colleges, if you wish). You will receive a decision early in the admission cycle (usually by December 15th or early January). Unlike Early Decision, you are not required to attend the college, and you can wait until May 1st to make your final decision.

What is Single-Choice Early Action?

Some colleges have Single-Choice Early Action. It is the same program as regular Early Action, but you are not allowed to submit any other Early Action or Early Decision applications.

What About Financial Aid?

When applying under an early decision program, you will fill out a preliminary financial aid form from the college. (Some colleges use the CSS Profile form available via the Internet at You will be notified of your estimated financial aid package at the time of your acceptance. It will be determined by the college based on an assessment of your family’s economic needs, and will be adjusted after you provide your actual FAFSA and tax returns.

Under an early action program you are not likely to be granted a financial aid package before your FAFSA and all other necessary forms have been processed, likely in March.


It is always best to direct your questions about early decision or early action programs to your college of choice. Institutions vary in their implementation of early programs. Contact the colleges directly about the regulations of each program, as they vary widely. Consult college websites first. They usually have the most current information. 

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