Early Decision: A Faustian Bargain?

Ms. Elena Crites

The deadline is coming.  The pressure is on. As if college itself isn’t daunting enough, how about early decision? Early decision is a binding college choice. This means that if you are accepted, you’re going. With early decision, students have to apply significantly earlier than the non-binding regular decision, as well as decide exactly which college they want to go to. Early decision requires quite a lot of certainty, and requires students to meet early application deadlines, but the rewards can be significant. It’s like signing a blood oath. But it’s worth it.


Early decision usually requires applicants to submit their application by November 1, as opposed to regular decision deadlines that usually fall somewhere from December-February. There are three possible responses to an early decision application. Accepted, deferred, or denied. When an applicant is deferred, this means that the school they applied to liked their application, but before admitting the student, they’d like to see how the applicant compares to students applying regular decision. In the case that an applicant is either deferred or denied, this early response allows them time to complete and update a new application to submit to other schools during the regular decision process. For those who are accepted, they have a set college plan months before their peers, giving them some time for some much-needed rest.

Early decision has also proven itself to be a pretty elitist process. For students who are accepted early to a college and bound by their decision, they are unable to compare financial aid between multiple colleges. This ends up preventing quite a lot of students from partaking in the ED process. Naomi Williams, Chittenden Guidance Counselor, says that “while [early decision] is a great option for many students, it is a huge decision that students typically make with their families.  Since applying ED is a binding agreement and [applicants] will not be able to compare financial aid offers from multiple colleges, it is important that these factors are considered.” Most schools will allow a student to back out of the binding contract if they truly don’t receive enough financial aid, but this still leads to a missed opportunity for the student to apply ED to another school that may have provided them with enough support.

So what’s the big whoop?

It’s all about the statistics. According to data collected by the Common Data Set (CDS), the 2017 ED acceptance rate at Brown University, an Ivy League institution, was 21%, as compared to the regular decision acceptance rate of 7.1%. That’s a major difference, an increase of 13.9% — more than the regular decision acceptance rate altogether. This trend can be seen around the board, at elite

schools such as Dartmouth (28.3% vs. 8.5%), Middlebury (48.3% vs. 13.9%), Northwestern (26.9% vs. 7.2%), and Tufts (36.8% vs. 11.9%). Students who choose to apply early have a considerably greater chance of being accepted to their school of choice. According to Snelling Guidance Counselor, Julie Dimmock, “ For the most selective schools (Bowdoin, Hamilton, UPENN, for example), ED gives an advantage, but the odds are still not in a student’s favor.  They are just so tough to get into. For schools that are a little less competitive, it gives a definite advantage.” Yes, it’s a pain in the butt. The earlier deadline means that the pressure cooker environment of putting together a college application becomes even more stressful and horrific for the applicant. You’ve got to get your Common App, your essays, your letters of recommendation, your standardized tests, and additional content required by schools together months before your peers. Not to mention the fact that if you are applying to an arts school, you may also need to compile a portfolio or travel to schools for individual auditions. But once you make all these sacrifices, you will be rewarded with a substantial upper hand.

Early decision may not be the choice for everyone. Dimmock states that “approximately 5-7 [Snelling] students apply ED each year,” while Williams says that Chittenden has 7-8 students applying ED this year. Making such a set-in-stone decision at age 17 that very well might alter your entire life path is frightening, and if you’re not entirely sure of what you want for your future, maybe early decision isn’t for you. Not only that, but finances need to be greatly considered as well. There’s no telling how much financial aid a school will be willing to provide when they know that you’ll be attending their program, no matter the circumstances.