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Think it Through: Early Decision

With Early Decision deadlines just around the corner, it is crunch time for college applicants. As important as it is to submit the highest quality application, it is equally important to make sure that Early Decision is the right option for the entire family.

Early Decision is the admission option through which a student makes a binding commitment to one school if accepted early. Statistics have shown that there is a slight increase in admission chances in the ED round. And the logic makes sense. ED applicants tend to be high-quality applicants who have not only gotten their act together to submit their applications earlier, but also have completed their testing and are satisfied with their grades and other accomplishments.

From the colleges’ perspective, they are getting inundated with top students who are ready to accept an offer of admission. Many colleges will often fill up half of their incoming class with ED applicants, making the regular round more competitive.

Why, and why not? 

With all the pros to applying for Early Decision, many students often wonder, “why wouldn’t I apply ED?”

The answer is simple: financial aid.

The chance of receiving merit-based aid from the given college decreases when a student applies for ED. The colleges simply do not have to woo students in this round with financial incentives when the student has already essentially committed. They would rather use those funds during the regular round to create an incentive for their most highly sought applicants.

All students are guaranteed need-based federal financial aid, assuming they apply. So need-based aid is not in jeopardy. If the college does not provide merit-based aid, then that factor may be irrelevant. However, the financial aid conversation should not stop there. Students may still be applying for Regular Decision to other colleges that do provide merit-based aid. If that is the case and if finances will play a major role in the final college selection plan, many families will choose to forgo the benefits of ED for the chance of saving some money in the long term. In a similar vein, students who have a strong chance of acceptance at an in-state public college, with significantly less expensive tuition than private colleges, will decide not to apply for ED.

Think it through carefully. 

Before jumping into the ED process, families should sit down and really think through all the options. Often, families get so excited about a given school and the prospect of applying for ED that they wait to have the financial conversation. So students should apply for ED if they meet these criteria:

• They are absolutely in love with their ED choice and believe it will be the best school for them in the long term.

• The family is fully prepared to pay either the full cost of attendance or the difference between cost of attendance and financial aid awarded.

• The student would not choose another school based on a lesser overall cost.

• The family would not choose another school for factors other than financial, such as location, size of campus, overall educational experience, personal or familial reasons.

• The decision was made rationally and not just emotionally.

Students who get accepted ED rarely ever regret getting in, but there are cases every year when families receive their estimated financial aid for the ED school and suddenly get very anxious because the aid they received is significantly lower than what they had hoped for. Anxiety typically ensues — not the emotion anyone should feel after an acceptance. Colleges are not obligated to meet the full financial need of families. So it is important to be knowledgeable and to think long term, not just about getting the acceptance offer.

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