Ask Yourself These 4 Questions Before You Apply Early Decision

Bradford Holmes

Colleges typically offer two early admissions options -- early action, in which students receive a nonbinding offer of admission, and early decision, in which students, if accepted, must attend the college in question.

While one can argue that there are few drawbacks to early action, early decision (or ED, for short) is another matter. Students who are considering applying ED to a school should weigh a number of questions very carefully before deciding on this path. While applying early decision can open doors that may otherwise have been difficult to enter, its binding nature also closes a number of other doors if you are admitted. Here are four important questions to ask yourself before applying to a college ED:

Here are [four financial aid facts early decision applications should know.]

1. Is there a significant statistical advantage to applying ED?

At certain schools, there is a considerably higher rate of acceptance for students who apply early. However, this can vary widely by institution, with some colleges reporting exceptionally large differences, and others reporting differences of only several percentage points.

A student who applies to a school via early action or early decision may thus have a better chance of admission than a comparable student who applies during regular admissions. Whether ED programs offer a distinct advantage over early action is less clear. Colleges may not have both ED and early action, and the different admissions rates cannot necessarily be compared as a result.

Check out [three reasons to apply early action to college.]

2. Would a midyear addition to your application such as a completed internship or first semester grades enhance your overall profile?

If your answer to this question is yes, then it is perhaps best to avoid early decision applications. Think of it this way -- early decision may provide you with an admissions advantage, but so too will a strong addition to your application.

The ideal time to apply early decision is when you are 100 percent certain that a particular school is your first choice college and when your admissions profile is polished and complete. If the second semester of your senior year will bring you a leadership position in an extracurricular, or a rare service learning opportunity, opt for regular admissions.

3. Have you thoroughly vetted the school, including sitting in on a class and staying on campus overnight?

If your answer to this question is no, set aside your early decision application for now. If you are able to do so, spend several days or a weekend on campus before you commit the next four years of your life to the school.

Will you be happy in the dorms or the available off-campus housing? Is the surrounding town large or small enough for you? Do you enjoy the structure of an average class in your major? Once you answer these and other questions, you can decide on the best admissions strategy for you.

Answer this quiz and [ find out where you should start the college process.]

4. Do you often second-guess your decisions or wish that you had taken more time to think through a matter?

If your answer to this question is yes, then you should almost certainly avoid early decision. It can be tempting to move past the stresses of the college search by rushing the process, but unless you are fully secure in your choice, you may change your mind in December, March or June with no easy solution.

Take a moment to consider your most recent important decision. How often did you change your mind? Was it an anxiety-provoking process, or did you move too quickly toward a solution?

Applying early decision to college is a double-edged sword. While it may make you happier in the short term, unless you have thoroughly researched your top choice and have no doubt that it is where you wish to enroll, you may regret your lack of choice come spring. If you know that further thought and further research will aid you, think twice before submitting an early decision application.

Bradford Holmes is a professional SAT and Latin tutor with Varsity Tutors. He earned his B.A. from Harvard University and his master's degree from the University of Southern California.