Early decision (ED) is an increasingly popular choice for college applications. The reason? Well, actually there are a couple.
First of all, by applying early, students get their admissions notifications early: try around December 15, the same time that regular decision applications are due. This can be a huge relief, knowing where you will be attending college an entire semester before your fellow students.
Another advantage, and a hotly contested one, is that there is evidence that applying early increases your chances of being admitted in the first place, especially among elite colleges. Schools like Amherst College and University of Pennsylvania boast significantly higher acceptance rates for students applying early—almost double that of their regular decision counterparts.
But beware: early decision has some serious pitfalls. For starters, you are locked into admissions should you be accepted. So if you are just starting your college search, you might be jumping the gun by committing to one school. Some schools have, instead, an Early Action deadline which gives you the same early admittance but without being tied down to that school.
Although the acceptance rates for ED can be significantly higher, you should take into account the competitiveness of the application pool. Early Decision applications need stellar junior year grades, as colleges won’t get to see any senior year transcripts. Applicants also tend to be very motivated, as they have already done a lot of college research early. While ED can help you if you are already a competitive applicant, it is not a miracle for mediocre students looking for admissions into a competitive college. Look at your college admissions chances objectively: if you are already competitive applicant, but could use a boost than early decision might help.
Another problem with being locked into ED is that you have no freedom to compare financial aid offers. If finances are even a minor factor in your decision, you should seriously rethink applying Early Decision. By applying to multiple schools, you are able to compare offers from different schools and even use them as bargaining chips against each other.
Basically, unless you are positive that you want to go to a college, and positive that you can afford 100% of the tuition (or the school promises to meet 100% of all demonstrated financial need), early decision college applications might not be for you.