The Early Decision Dilemma

12/19/2016 05:42 pm ET Updated Dec 17, 2017

2016-12-16-1481892658-9639228-IsabellaFloresheadshot.jpg

By Isabella Flores, Online Advisor
Students Rising Above

Applying Early Decision can be a great option if you are positive about where you want to attend college. You have completed your research and are prepared to attend that school if accepted. However, if you are unsure about applying to a school early, or are a first-generation college student unfamiliar with the college admissions process, it is crucial that you conduct research on the pros and cons of Early Decision. Access to professional mentorship and assistance, such as the free Students Rising Above (SRA) College2Careers Hub, can advise you on best options based on your goals and circumstances.

Below are three types of early admission options, and other key considerations:

Early Decision
Early Decision is BINDING. This means that if accepted, you must go to that college. You will apply early, and will find out very early - usually by December - whether you have been admitted. You can only apply to one college Early Decision. However, you can apply to other colleges under the regular deadline. If you get into your Early Decision school, you must withdraw your application from other schools.

Early Decision II
Some schools offer Early Decision II, which typically includes a January application deadline. You usually will find out if you have been admitted in mid-February. Early Decision II benefits you as an applicant because you have more time to research, conduct campus visits and compile your application. If you are accepted under Early Decision II, it is binding. Once again, you will need to withdraw your other applications.

Early Action
Early Action is NOT binding. You will apply earlier, and will find out earlier whether you get into the college. Early Action applicants typically will receive an admissions decision in January or February, but will not have to commit to any college until the traditional reply date of May 1. With Early Action you can still apply to, and consider, other colleges as well.

What are the benefits? Should you apply early?
SRA's professionally trained advisors find that many students have a better chance of being accepted to a preferred school by applying early. Students who choose to apply early, and therefore receive admissions decisions earlier, also report less overall stress. If you apply early to a school and the school defers your application to the regular admission deadline, you still have a leg up. You have shown the school that you are strongly committed to attending if they admit you.

You should NOT apply early if:
  • You are not fully committed to a college
  • You are still researching schools
  • You had a bad junior year spring semester, and think your senior year fall semester grades might improve the way colleges evaluate you
Applicant Beware: Financial Drawbacks of Applying Early

The biggest drawback of applying early is that if you apply Early Decision, you cannot compare financial aid packages between schools. You are permitted to turn down an Early Decision school if the financial aid package does not meet your need. However, this is more difficult than it seems. "Need" is determined by your expected family contribution, not your "real-life" ability to pay.

Use the school's financial aid calculator and fill out the information as accurately as possible to get a fairly accurate read on your financial aid package. You can also speak with the school's financial aid office to get a better estimate of what your aid might be if granted admission to the college. If you do not do this research before applying Early Decision, you may be at risk of attending a college that offers you a weak financial aid package.

Looking Ahead
Remember, if you are unsure about applying Early Decision or Early Action, seek out the help of an advisor to help you make smart academic and financial decisions. Once you have accepted admission, make sure to stay on top of your to-do list and check the school portal daily. You will likely need to submit deposits for tuition and housing; these must be turned in on time. Finally, finish your senior year strong. Don't gamble with your future by letting your grades slip in your final semester of senior year.

Isabella Flores graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in media studies and sociology. She is currently an online advisor with Students Rising Above on the College2Careers Hub, where she provides personal guidance, information and resources to low-income, first-generation college students from the initial college application process, through graduation and into the workforce.