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Is College Early Decision Right For You?

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It’s more and more common for students to apply to college early. With the highly competitive nature of today’s applicants and the number of students applying to college, many opt to jump ahead of the pack.

Applying early decision means you will be submitting your application in October or early November, giving you little time the first part of senior year to get your application together.

So, it’s time now to consider whether this works for you.

The pros of early decision

In college admissions, the early bird gets the worm. If you are set on one school and sure that school is for you, then apply early. Focusing all your efforts on one college will make the application process easier, giving you more time to prepare a stellar application. In addition, early applicants usually receive notification of acceptance before the winter break. Imagine having this decision behind you and being able to enjoy the balance of senior year!

Additionally, fewer applicants usually apply early, which means less competition for admission slots. However, more and more students are applying early than in previous years and those applying have stellar applications.

The cons of early decision

The greatest disadvantage of applying early is that if you are admitted, you are obligated to accept the offer. That means if you change your mind between the time you apply and the time you receive the offer, you must discount all other colleges of interest. The offer is binding. Early decision locks you into your college choice. You should only apply early only if this is your dream school.

Another downside is financial aid. If you require financial aid and want to leverage your options by comparing offers from other colleges, early decision is not for you. Most early applicants apply knowing full well they should be prepared to pay for college without financial aid assistance.

Until the recent FAFSA changes, colleges that accepted early applicants traditionally did not provide a financial aid package until the spring. This allowed them to look at their total applicant pool and decide which students should be awarded any merit aid. With these new FAFSA changes, it’s still not clear whether colleges will be offering financial aid packages early when the early decision offers are sent, or will continue to wait until the spring.

Additionally, as I said, more and more students are applying early and most are highly qualified for admission. You’ll need stellar test scores, impressive extracurriculars, and an exceptional academic record.

What happens if you apply early decision and aren’t offered admission?

Colleges often add your application to the regular decision pool. If not, you are usually eligible to reapply during regular decision. If you apply early decision and don’t get offered admission, you should be prepared to regroup. This means that you need to take a look at other colleges and start working on applications so you can apply during regular decision, usually in late December.

If you want to apply early and aren’t quite sure if you want to commit to early decision, you can always consider early action. These applicants aren’t bound to accept the offer and can apply to more than one college. If you're accepted, you can say yes right away or wait until spring to decide. You can also decline the offer.

[Looking for more info on applying to college? Here's 5 lessons I learned during the college search]

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