What is Early Decision in College Admissions?

14/12/202366 minute read
What is Early Decision 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.

If accepted under an Early Decision application process, you are bound by a legal agreement to attend the school, and withdraw applications you've submitted to other schools, making an Early Decision strategy something you should approach 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 involves a binding agreement if you're granted admission by the school.

Applying Early Decision can have profound implications on your academic journey, including, importantly, giving your application an edge in the admissions process. In a moment we'll take a closer look at ED acceptance rates and explore the pros and cons of applying ED, so keep reading!

Types of Early Decision

Many schools only offer Early Decision. However, some schools offer two Early Decision timelines. At these schools the two types of Early Decision are simply called, typically, ED 1 and ED 2.

What you need to know about ED 1 and ED 2:

  • Same Policy & Commitments: ED 1 and ED 2 typically involves the same policies, and whichever type you apply under, you're typically subject to the same binding agreement if admitted.
  • Variations in Acceptance Rates: In most cases you're likely to discover that the ED 2 acceptance rate is slightly lower than the ED 2 rate at the same school, but still better than the Regular Decision acceptance rate.
  • Different Timelines: ED 2 application timelines typically fall between ED 1 and Regular Decision timelines. While ED 1 application deadlines are typically in early November, ED 2 deadlines typically fall between somewhere between January 1st and January 15th.
  • Popularity: You'll find many schools offering only ED, and also many schools offering ED1/ED2. While more schools offer only one ED round, many popular, top-ranked schools do offer ED1/ED2.

Schools Offering ED 1 and 2

The following are some of the more popular, high-ranking schools offering both ED 1 and ED 2 options:

  • American University
  • Boston College
  • Boston University
  • Claremont McKenna College
  • Emory University
  • George Washington University
  • Harvey Mudd College
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • New York University (NYU)
  • Northeastern University
  • Santa Clara University
  • Smith College
  • Swarthmore College
  • Tufts University
  • University of Miami
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Vassar College
  • Washington University in St. Louis

Remember, admissions policies and offerings are subject to change and this represents only a partial list of ED 2 schools.

Application Timelines: ED 1 vs. ED 2

Early Decision / Early Decision 1Early Decision 2
Application Timeline*Early NovemberEarly January
Notification Timeline*December or early JanuaryEarly–to–late February

*Deadlines and timelines can vary by institution and year to year, and are subject to change.

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Early Decision Acceptance Rates

Below you'll get a glimpse of just how high Early Decision acceptance rates can go at top schools, at the Ivy League schools that offer Early Decision, and at a select handful of top-ranked Non-Ivies.

Keep in mind that rates can change from year to year, not all schools report acceptance rate data or report it promptly, and typically the rates for ED 2 rounds specifically will not be as high as rates for ED 1 at the same the school.

Ivy League ED Acceptance Rates vs. Overall Acceptance Rates
UniversityNumber of ED ApplicantsAdmittedClass of 2028 EARLY DECISION RateClass of 2028 OVERALL ACCEPTANCE Rate
Brown6,77087914.4%5.16%
Columbia6,009751*12.5%*3.85%
Dartmouth3,00957817%5.32%
Cornellnananana
Penn8,5001,190*14%*5.4%

* Figures based on estimates

Non-Ivies ED Acceptance Rates vs. Overall Acceptance Rates
UniversityNumber of ED ApplicantsAdmittedClass of 2028 ED ACCEPTANCE RateClass of 2028 OVERALL ACCEPTANCE Rate
Duke (ED)4,85580013%5.15%
Johns Hopkins (ED1)2,70053319.5%6.2%
Northeastern (ED)3,00060020%5%
Rice (ED)2,88688715.32%7.51%
Vanderbilt (ED1/2)5,835886*15.2%5.09%
Emory (ED1)2,70486432%14.49%

* Figures based on estimates

As you can see, Early Decision acceptance rates at top schools are very competitive, but in most cases offer applicants a significant statistical edge compared to overall acceptance rates, and remember that Regular Decision rates are even lower.

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 have compelling reasons for attending their school. By meeting the early application deadline and committing to attending if accepted, you're clearly showing which school is your top choice.
  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. Yield Rate Coattails: Schools are often motivated to admit a high percentage of ED applicants, because higher yield rates can boost the school's rankings. Likewise, being able to predict yield rates can help schools manage enrollment numbers. Because they're committed to attending if admitted, ED applicants offer the highest and most predictable yield rates. This yield rate factor can motivate schools to accept a greater percentage of ED applicants.
  5. 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're 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, for ED/ED1, or by early January for ED2.

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.

Navigating Admissions Deferrals

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.

A Comprehensive List of ED Schools

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 Yorknd66%
Allegheny CollegePennsylvania79.9%64%
American UniversityWashington, D.C.65%41%
Amherst CollegeMassachusetts31%9%
Babson CollegeMassachusettsnd20%
Bard CollegeNew York89%60%
Barnard CollegeNew York26%7%
Bates CollegeMaine48%13%
Bennington CollegeVermont54%45%
Bentley UniversityMassachusetts78%58%
Birmingham-Southern CollegeAlabamand57%
Boston CollegeMassachusetts30%14.7%
Boston UniversityMassachusetts34%11%
Bowdoin CollegeMaine13.5%7%
Brandeis UniversityMassachusetts49%35%
Brown UniversityRhode Island14.4%5%
Bryn Mawr CollegePennsylvania57%39%
Bucknell UniversityPennsylvania63%28%
Carleton CollegeMinnesota32%18%
Carnegie Mellon UniversityPennsylvania12.5%11%
Case Western Reserve UniversityOhio33%27%
Champlain CollegeVermontnd56%
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?

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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