One way to cut down your waiting time is to apply for an early decision. But what are the trade-offs? And does the early bird really have a better chance of getting in?
Asking for an early decision means you are committed to attending that college if accepted. Your application is usually due in November, and you will know your fate before your winter break.
How Early Decision Works
You are allowed to apply for an early decision to only one college. If you are accepted by that school, you must attend it. You must withdraw all applications already submitted and you may not apply elsewhere. There is only one exception: If the school does not meet your financial need, you are free to decline admission and apply to other colleges.
Applying Early Decision Means You Are Committed
Because you must enroll in the college if it accepts you, the worst thing you can do is apply for an early decision from a college you know little about. Be sure you have done plenty of college visits and research so you are utterly convinced that this is the best college for you.
Deciding on Early Decision—or Not
If your top-choice college offers early decision and you feel prepared and ready to apply, then go for it. However, there are times when applying for an early decision might not be the best idea. If getting substantial financial aid is critical, you are better off applying for a regular decision. That way, you can compare and negotiate aid offers before choosing a college. If there's a chance you can improve your grades and scores, you will also be better off applying in the regular admission cycle.
Be aware that applying for an early decision does not necessarily boost your chances, since early applicants are often better qualified than regular applicants.
How to Apply for an Early Decision
You will have to start the application process a few months earlier than most applicants and complete your standardized tests no later than October. Otherwise, early decision applications are the same as regular applications.
Suppose You Don't Make the First Cut?
The college may automatically add you to the regular admission application pool. If it does not, you are usually (but not always) free to reapply by the regular admission deadline. Check the admission policies of the college.