Estrela Consulting Blog

5 Early Decision Urban Legends + Some Truth

Kristina Dooley September 23, 2015

It's the first day of fall in the Northern Hemisphere. The leaves are beginning to change and social media is rapidly filling with images of Homecoming proposals and #pumpkinspice everything. For high school seniors these moments of whimsy are slowly turning to the realization that one year from now they will have begun their next journey in life: college.

As the clock ticks down and students finalize their application plans, many will no doubt be drawn to some of the "early" application options. Before ticking off that Early Decision box, we thought it would be helpful to debunk some urban legends about this option to help students decide if this is the right plan for them.

1)Urban Legend: Early Decision was created because of increasing demand for Ivy League admission.

Truth: The option of applying Early Decision actually began when competition rose amongst women vying for admission to the "Seven Sisters" (Smith, Bryn Mawr, Wellesley, Radcliffe, Barnard, Mount Holyoke and Vassar) in the 1950's. Because many colleges were still not admitting women at that time, the elite women's colleges were flooded with applications. The schools created the Early Decision option to encourage women to select their top choice option sooner and eliminate the amount of uncertainty about enrollment numbers. Today more than 450 colleges offer some type of "early" option including early decision and early action.

2) Urban Legend: Early Decision applicants always have a better chance of being admitted than Regular Decision applicants.

Truth: Sometimes...but not always. While it's true that many schools admit a fair number of their incoming class via Early Decision, there are still schools with Early Decision acceptance rates that are lower than Regular Decision* and most schools enroll a higher percentage of their incoming class via Regular Decision. That being said, the most important thing to remember is that Early Decision is not in place as a way for unqualified students to gain admission to a college. While it's certainly nice for colleges to know that those students who are admitted during the Early Decision round WILL enroll (remember: Early Decision is a binding agreement!), they don't use this as a time to take unsubstantiated risks by admitting students they know will be unsuccessful at their institution.

3) Urban Legend: If I am denied admission during Early Decision I can just re-submit an application for Regular Decision. 

Truth: Colleges will accept only ONE application per student/per year. This means that once you receive an admission decision you would need to wait until the next application year to re-submit an application. It's important to note that many students who apply Early Decision have their applications rolled over into the Regular Decision pool each year. Should this happen to you, be prepared to provide updated grades and test scores to the school before your file is reviewed again. Use this as an opportunity to showcase an improvement in grades or scores, or to share a significant accomplishment or recognition received since the original application was submitted.

4) Urban Legend: If I am admitted Early Decision and realize after I am admitted that I can't afford it, I am still obligated to enroll since the application is "binding".

Truth: The only legal way for a student to "unbind" their Early Decision offer of admission is if they are financially unable to enroll. Because Early Decision applicants will not have filed their FAFSA prior to applying for admission and receiving a decision (applications are usually due in early November with decisions being released in December), it's important for families to take advantage of a college's Net Price Calculator to determine affordability BEFORE applying for admission.

5) Urban Legend: If I am admitted Early Decision I will have extra incentives like better dorm choices, bonus scholarships and special access to the Honors Program.

Truth: The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) cites in their Statement of Principles of Good Practice (SPGP) that colleges MAY NOT offer exclusive incentives to Early Decision applicants if they are not offered to students applying under other decision plans. The only incentive for Early Decision applicants is, just as the name states, getting an admission decision early.

As students weigh the various options for applications, it's important to remember that this process - if executed with the right amount of thought and research - should only be gone through once in their lifetime. With a transfer rate in the U.S. of 1 out of every 3 students, it's imperative that the college search isn't taken likely. Before finalizing lists and making decisions about application plans, students should make sure their choices are based on finding the right fit institution and not simply on ease of admission.

For more information on the various types of application plans available, here is a thorough guide from our friends at NACAC. 

*Thank you to my IECA colleagues, Jennie Kent and Jeff Levy for compiling this fantastic guide to Early Decision vs. Regular Decision stats.