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  • The Ins and Outs of Applying Early

Is Early Decision Right for You?

What are the benefits and trade-offs of applying to college under a binding early decision plan? And does the early bird really have a better chance of getting in?

Early Decision vs. Early Action

About 15 percent of colleges offer early action, which provides an early admission decision without a commitment to enroll. These schools usually allow you to submit early action applications to other colleges at the same time.

Generally, colleges that offer early decision do not allow students to apply to another college for an early decision, but some will allow students to apply elsewhere under early action.

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.

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 may apply 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 anywhere else. There is only one exception: If the school does not meet your financial aid 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 early decision, the worst thing you can do is apply early decision to a college that you are unsure or no little about. Be sure you have done plenty of college visits and research so you are sure that the school you apply early decision to 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 early decision might not be the best idea. If getting substantial financial aid is critical, you are better off applying 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 during the fall semester of your senior year in high school, you also might be better off applying in the regular admission cycle.

Studies show that early decision admit rates are often higher than regular decision admit rates. It’s very possible that applying early will boost your chances. Just be mindful that your individual qualifications and circumstances may not qualify you for early admission at a particular school where another student in comparable standing may be accepted.

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.

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