What is Early Decision (ED) in College Admissions?

14/12/202359 minute read
What is Early Decision (ED) in College Admissions?

Early Decision (ED) can impact your chance of getting into your dream university. This article explains the ins and outs of ED: what it is, the deadlines, the pros and cons of applying ED, and financial aid considerations. Whether you're a high school student navigating the college application journey or a parent seeking clarity, this guide will help you decide whether applying ED is right for you!

What is Early Decision (ED)?

Early Decision (ED) is a college application process where you can submit your application to a preferred college early in your senior year — typically by November. Early Decision results are announced around mid-December.

Early Decision is a legally binding agreement. This means that if you are accepted via ED, you are required to enroll at that particular college and withdraw all applications from other schools. It's a significant commitment that should be approached with thorough understanding and careful consideration.

Early Decision is distinct from other application routes, such as Regular Decision (RD) and Early Action (EA). While EA allows applicants to apply early to multiple institutions and receive non-binding early responses, ED is a binding agreement.

Applying Early Decision can have profound implications on your academic journey. Most importantly: In return for your demonstrated commitment to a school, you can get an edge in the admissions process. 

Can you apply Early Decision to one school and also apply at the same time to other schools Early Action or Regular Decision?

Yes! You can only apply Early Decision to one school, but you can apply Early Action and Regular Decision to multiple schools at the same time. Just know that you must withdraw all other applications if you are accepted to your Early Decision school. 

What is Early Decision 2 (ED 2)? 

ED 2  is a second-round opportunity to apply in Early Decision. The deadline is around January 1, with results announced in mid-February. The acceptance rate is slightly lower than ED 1, but still higher than the regular decision round.

You might decide to apply via ED 2 if you were rejected by your first choice ED school and want to boost your odds of acceptance to your second choice school. Or, you may decide to apply ED 2 to your top choice school if you want to apply early with a binding decision but want more time to prepare your application.

ED 2 is less common than ED 1. Some notable universities that offer ED 2 are NYU and Tulane.

When are Early Decision application deadlines and results?

Application deadlines: Early Decision deadlines, like Early Action deadlines, typically fall around November 1st. Results are released around the middle of December, depending on the school. 

So if you apply ED, you will know by the end of December of your senior year whether you’ll be attending that school next fall!

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Pros and Cons of Applying Early Decision

Pros of Early Decision

1. Increased Admission Chances: ED has the highest acceptance rate out of the three application deadline options (ED, EA, and RD). This is probably due to a combination of factors, including both a smaller pool of applicants and very strong applications. 

2. Demonstrated Interest: Schools like to see that you’re prioritizing them, and they often fill a substantial portion of their incoming class during the early rounds  — even up to 50%

3. Streamlined Process: ED accelerates the application process and gives you an early admission decision. You’ll know whether you were accepted by December of your senior year.

4. Potential Scholarship Opportunities: Some colleges award more substantial financial aid packages to ED applicants. This is not a general rule, though. Ask each school about available scholarships to know for sure.

Cons of Early Decision

1. Binding Commitment: If accepted through ED, you are obligated to attend that institution. This restricts your options to explore other potential offers or compare financial aid packages.

2. Pressure to Decide Early: The ED application deadline is earlier than the regular decision deadline. This can increase your stress if you’re not ready to commit by November of your senior year.

3. Financial Implications: Given the binding nature of ED, families might face challenges if the financial aid package is not sufficient. Admissions officers expect that you have considered the financial implications of your application when you apply early.

What happens if you are deferred after applying Early Decision?

If you are neither accepted nor denied outright, you will be deferred to the Regular Decision round. In this case, the college will reevaluate your application with the larger pool of applicants. 

Some colleges release you from the binding agreement when you are deferred or waitlisted, enabling you to apply to other institutions.

If you are rejected after applying ED, you can’t apply again to the same school that academic year.

Early Decision Schools and Acceptance Rates

There are many schools in the US that offer Early Decision. Some of the most popular universities that offer ED are:

Below is a complete alphabetical list of US universities that offer Early Decision with 2023’s Early Decision and Regular Decision acceptance rates.

Note that the following states do not have any schools that offer undergraduate Early Decision: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Early Decision Colleges and Acceptance Rates
UniversityStateEarly Decision Acceptance RateRegular Decision Acceptance Rate
Albany College of Pharmacy and Health SciencesNew YorkN/A66%
Allegheny CollegePennsylvania38%64%
American UniversityWashington, D.C.86%41%
Amherst CollegeMassachusetts32%7%
Babson CollegeMassachusetts38%22%
Bard CollegeNew York89%60%
Barnard CollegeNew York33%9%
Bates CollegeMaine48%14%
Beloit CollegeWisconsin67%66%
Bennington CollegeVermont30%45%
Bentley UniversityMassachusetts78%58%
Birmingham-Southern CollegeAlabamaN/A57%
Boston CollegeMassachusetts28%17%
Boston UniversityMassachusetts25%14%
Bowdoin CollegeMaine26%9%
Brandeis UniversityMassachusetts64%39%
Brown UniversityRhode Island15%5%
Bryn Mawr CollegePennsylvania62%31%
Bucknell UniversityPennsylvania58%33%
Carleton CollegeMinnesota22%17%
Carnegie Mellon UniversityPennsylvania13%11%
Case Western Reserve UniversityOhio34%27%
Champlain CollegeVermont67%56%
Christopher Newport UniversityVirginia92%85%
Claremont McKenna CollegeCalifornia30%10%
Clarkson UniversityNew York81%78%
Clemson UniversitySouth CarolinaN/A43%
Colby CollegeMaine42%8%
Colgate UniversityNew York25%12%
College of the AtlanticMaine80%60%
College of William and MaryVirginia50%33%
Colorado CollegeColorado44%14%
Columbia UniversityNew York12%4%
Connecticut CollegeConnecticut 49%40%
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and ArtNew York33%22%
Cornell UniversityNew YorkN/A7%
Davidson CollegeNorth Carolina43%17%
Dartmouth CollegeNew Hampshire21%6%
Denison UniversityOhio31%22%
DePauw UniversityIndiana50%66%
Dickinson CollegePennsylvania58%35%
Drexel UniversityPennsylvania92%80%
Drew UniversityNew Jersey98%73%
Duke UniversityNorth Carolina16%6%
Elon UniversityNorth Carolina90%74%
Emory UniversityGeorgia26%11%
Fairfield UniversityConnecticut83%52%
Flagler CollegeFlorida70%81%
Florida Southern CollegeFlorida72%57%
Fordham UniversityNew York67%54%
Franklin & Marshall CollegePennsylvania58%36%
Furman UniversitySouth Carolina41%67%
George Washington UniversityDistrict of Columbia66%49%
Gettysburg CollegePennsylvania55%56%
Grove City CollegePennsylvania95%71%
Hamilton CollegeNew York34%12%
Hampden-Sydney CollegeVirginia
Harvey Mudd CollegeCalifornia19%13%
Haverford CollegePennsylvania41%14%
High Point UniversityNorth Carolina79%79%
Hillsdale CollegeMichigan33%21%
Hobart and William Smith CollegesNew York74%68%
Hollins UniversityVirginiaN/A72%
Ithaca CollegeNew York94%75%
Johns Hopkins UniversityMaryland15%7%
Juniata CollegePennsylvania67%76%
Kalamazoo CollegeMichigan75%80%
Kenyon CollegeOhio44%34%
Lafayette CollegePennsylvania43%34%
Lake Forest CollegeIllinois38%60%
Lawrence UniversityWisconsin 69%72%
Lehigh UniversityPennsylvania66%37%
Lewis & Clark CollegeOregon72%69%
Lynchburg CollegeVirginia81%96%
Macalester CollegeMinnesota53%28%
Maine College of ArtMaineN/A72%
Manhattan CollegeNew YorkN/A82%
Marist CollegeNew York77%63%
Maryland Institute College of ArtMaryland N/A86%
Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyMassachusettsN/A4%
McDaniel CollegeMarylandN/A82%
Mercer UniversityGeorgiaN/A75%
Meredith CollegeNorth CarolinaN/A73%
Merrimack CollegeMassachusetts47%75%
Miami UniversityOhioN/A88%
Middlebury CollegeVermont42%13%
Missouri University of Science and TechnologyMissouriN/A81%
Muhlenberg CollegePennsylvania73%66%
Nazareth CollegeNew York91%84%
New College of FloridaFloridaN/A75%
New Jersey Institute of TechnologyNew JerseyN/A66%
New York UniversityNew York N/A12%
North Carolina State UniversityNorth Carolina N/A47%
Northeastern UniversityMassachusetts33%7%
Northwestern UniversityIllinois22%7%
Oberlin College and ConservatoryOhioN/A35%
Occidental CollegeCalifornia59%39%
Pitzer CollegeCalifornia40%18%
Pomona CollegeCalifornia17%7%
Providence CollegeRhode Island87%53%
Purdue UniversityIndianaN/A53%
Quinnipiac UniversityConnecticut89%84%
Ramapo College of New JerseyNew Jersey85%70%
Reed CollegeOregon33%44%
Rensselaer Polytechnic InstituteNew York54%65%
Rhodes CollegeTennessee58%48%
Rice UniversityTexas19%9%
Rollins CollegeFlorida55%50%
Rose-Hulman Institute of TechnologyIndianaN/A73%
Saint Mary's CollegeIndiana71%84%
Salisbury UniversityMaryland91%91%
San Diego State UniversityCaliforniaN/A39%
Santa Clara UniversityCalifornia83%52%
Sarah Lawrence CollegeNew York59%50%
Scripps CollegeCalifornia40%28%
Siena CollegeNew YorkN/A71%
Skidmore CollegeNew York51%26%
Smith CollegeMassachusetts49%23%
Southern Methodist UniversityTexas71%52%
Southwestern UniversityTexas34%45%
Spelman CollegeGeorgia29%28%
St. John Fisher CollegeNew York76%73%
St. Lawrence UniversityNew York73%63%
Stanford UniversityCaliforniaN/A4%
Stevens Institute of TechnologyNew Jersey59%46%
Stonehill CollegeMassachusetts89%73%
SUNY College of Environmental Science and ForestryNew York75%70%
SUNY Maritime CollegeNew YorkN/A80%
Swarthmore CollegePennsylvania19%7%
Syracuse UniversityNew York60%52%
Texas Christian UniversityTexas79%56%
The College of New JerseyNew Jersey97%64%
Trinity CollegeConnecticut54%36%
Tufts UniversityMassachusettsN/A10%
Tulane UniversityLouisiana68%11%
Union CollegeNew York69%47%
University of California, BerkeleyCaliforniaN/A11%
University of California, DavisCaliforniaN/A37%
University of California, IrvineCaliforniaN/A21%
University of California, Los AngelesCaliforniaN/A9%
University of California, MercedCaliforniaN/A89%
University of California, RiversideCaliforniaN/A69%
University of California, San DiegoCaliforniaN/A24%
University of California, Santa BarbaraCaliforniaN/A26%
University of California, Santa CruzCaliforniaN/A47%
University of ChicagoIllinoisN/A5%
University of ConnecticutConnecticutN/A55%
University of DelawareDelawareN/A72%
University of DenverColorado62%78%
University of GeorgiaGeorgiaN/A43%
University of MiamiFlorida57%19%
University of MichiganMichiganN/A18%
University of Notre DameIndianaN/A13%
University of PennsylvaniaPennsylvania16%7%
University of PittsburghPennsylvaniaN/A49%
University of PortlandOregonN/A93%
University of Puget SoundWashington53%83%
University of RedlandsCalifornia100%82%
University of RichmondVirginia44%24%
University of RochesterNew York 43%39%
University of San DiegoCaliforniaN/A53%
University of San FranciscoCalifornia62%71%
University of ScrantonPennsylvaniaN/A84%
University of South CarolinaSouth CarolinaN/A64%
University of Southern CaliforniaCaliforniaN/A12%
University of the SouthTennessee60%52%
University of VermontVermontN/A60%
University of VirginiaVirginia45%19%
University of WashingtonWashingtonN/A48%
University of Wisconsin-MadisonWisconsinN/A49%
Ursinus CollegePennsylvania98%82%
Vanderbilt UniversityTennessee18%7%
Vassar CollegeNew York39%19%
Villanova UniversityPennsylvania55%23%
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech)Virginia50%57%
Wake Forest UniversityNorth CarolinaN/A21%
Washington and Lee UniversityVirginia42%17%

Early Decision and Financial Aid

Even if you’re fully committed to your top school choice, there are financial aid considerations to keep in mind. 

  • As mentioned earlier, if you are accepted ED but cannot afford to attend the school, you may be released from your legally binding commitment.
  • You won’t be able to compare financial aid packages when you apply Early Decision. You must be willing to accept whatever financial aid package is offered by the school.
  • You can still apply for federal aid if you apply ED. The FAFSA form opens October 1, and early decision deadlines are around November 1. So you should have a month to fill out the forms before your ED deadline.
  • You may not receive a merit-based scholarship if you apply ED. Colleges typically use merit scholarships to entice great students to attend. But they don’t have incentive to offer scholarships to students who have already committed.
  • If you have applied for other scholarships, you may not hear back from them until after your Early Decision results have been released.

Strategies for Successful Early Decision Applications

1. Thorough Research: Understand the institution's culture, programs, and offerings to ensure a genuine fit before committing.

2. Financial Preparation: Assess the college's financial aid policies thoroughly and discuss potential implications with your family or financial advisors.

3. Application Readiness: Complete all necessary components, such as essays, transcripts, and recommendations, well in advance to meet the early deadline effectively.

Should you apply Early Decision to college?

If you’ve had your sights set on one college and are sure it's the perfect fit for you, there’s little downside to applying Early Decision. Depending on the school, you might increase your chances of acceptance by applying ED. By applying ED, you will demonstrate your interest and commitment to your top choice school — qualities admissions officers love to see.

Be sure to consider your financial situation when deciding whether to apply ED.

Keep in mind that Early Decision alone doesn't give you a better chance of getting accepted. You still need to submit the strongest possible application and be a good fit for that school.

For help with deciding whether to apply ED and crafting your strongest possible application, book a free consultation with one of our skilled academic advisers today!

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