By Matt Niksa
For high school seniors, the month of November isn’t all about Thanksgiving. It is also the month when all private universities’ early decision applications are due. Although most seniors should have already completed and submitted their early decision (ED) applications, the debate over whether or not applying early decision helps or hurts your application process remains. Does applying early decision improve one’s chances of getting accepted into his or her dream school? Does applying early decision put too much pressure on students to finish their college applications by the early deadline? While the answer to these questions depends on colleges’ statistics and the students themselves, it is clear that the early decision plan is not for all prospective high school seniors. Applying early decision is a smart choice only for students who have researched the school they are applying to and are fully committed to attending the college to which they are applying early decision.
For those who are unfamiliar with ED, the early decision college application plan is a process that allows students to apply to a college earlier than the regular decision deadline. The deadlines for early decision applications are usually between the months of October and November. However, this plan is a binding college application plan, meaning students cannot submit multiple early decision applications to as many schools as they want. The early decision plan is for one university and one university only, and unlike the early action application, a student who is accepted as an early decision applicant must attend the college.
There are numerous benefits to applying early decision but as aforementioned, only those who have taken the time to extensively research all of their universities ought to consider applying early decision. One notable benefit of the early decision program is that it reduces stress, not just for the applicant but for everyone involved in the college application process. An ED applicant may have less time to work on their application than a regular decision applicant, whose application is due during January, but the ED applicant will have first priority in letters of recommendation from teachers and counselors. Furthermore, applying early decision takes the anxiety out of waiting for admission letters. ED applicants receive their admission letters in December, giving them less time to stress over whether or not their early-decision school accepted, declined or waitlisted them. Since the admission letters are sent only a month after the application is sent, ED applicants have time to reassess their options and even edit their applications if their first-choice university declines their application.
Students often apply using the ED application because they believe that applying early increases their chances of getting into the school of their choice. Applying early decision certainly helps improve one’s acceptance rates if he or she is applying to highly-selective, highly-ranked universities, like Ivy League universities. According to Hernandez College Consulting, students who applied to the class of 2017 for any Ivy League university using the early decision plan were placed into an applicant pool with an acceptance rate that was 14 percent higher than that of the regular decision applicant pool. Universities such as Duke, which took 44 percent of its class of 2017 through early decision, and Northwestern, which took 43 percent of its class of 2017 through ED, are just two other prestigious universities that show interest in early decision applicants. However, applying early decision does not automatically increase one’s chances of attending these nationally-recognized universities. Researching a university’s past acceptance rates is imperative if a student wants to have an advantage during the application process.
One of the biggest drawbacks of applying early decision is that it puts pressure on students to submit a fully-completed application by the November deadline, when most ED applications are due. Although some might say that working over the summer on the ED application helps relieve the stress, the summer should be spent researching universities and understanding the negatives and positives that universities have to offer. If one starts working on an ED application in the summer, he or she is unable to thoroughly research the university and make a decision as to whether the university would be the right choice for the ED application. As aforementioned, the ED application is binding so students should take the time to research all ED-application schools and choose a school that would be worth the ED application. If a student wants to have as much time as possible to finish his or her application, the ED application process may not be right for them.
There is no doubt that the early decision application has become more popular over the last decade. In fall 2011, 55 percent of colleges reported increased applications for the early decision program, showing just how much interest it has garnered over the last couple of years. Yet is the early decision application the right choice for prospective high school seniors? On one hand, the early decision program reduces stress for students by removing the anxiety in waiting for admission letters. Students who apply to certain universities through the ED plan are also placed in an applicant pool with higher acceptance rates than regular decision applicants. On the other hand, the early decision process gives students a shorter timeframe to complete their Common App or the school’s own application. The ED plan also does not distinguish how much financial aid is given to the applicant until after his or her’s application is accepted. The ED application has numerous pros and cons but in the end, it is up to the student to research the university to which they are applying early decision. Understanding the social environment of a university, what majors are offered and what internships are available at a university are important facts that one must know before considering the ED application. The ED application is entirely optional, and as long as a student can handle finishing an application by November and is satisfied with what the university has to offer, the ED application is a great way to improve chances of getting into the school of one’s choice.