Why It’s Important to Give a Close Look at Early Decision

Our high school seniors are finishing up their college essays and trying to complete the Common Application before the academic pressures of senior year take root. But there is one nagging decision left to make, one which many students find the most stressful of the whole process–whether to apply Early Decision.

Why it makes sense for some kids to apply to college early decision

When I first suggest to clients that they consider applying Early Decision to a favorite college, they often say no, I’d prefer to apply to multiple colleges, get lots of acceptances and then make my decision. Why should I pick one now?

[More on why college admissions is harder than you expected here.]

One of my students, Colin, was happy that he found a handful of colleges that were good fits both academically and socially. “I’m applying to Lehigh, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Colgate and William & Mary,” he said proudly, “I know I need a few safeties but I have some good ideas there too.”

Colin understood that Vanderbilt was a big reach, and William & Mary would be tough as well, particularly since Colin was from out-of-state. His profile was a very good match for Lehigh, Colgate, and Wake Forest, but his chances would increase if he applied Early Decision, thus making a commitment to one of those colleges.

Colin didn’t feel confident in making a commitment yet, and he didn’t like the idea of giving up on Vanderbilt, even though it was a reach school. “Can’t I just apply to them all, and then I’ll probably get into at least one of them, right?” In past years, Colin may have been correct. But today, many colleges are filling half of their freshman class in the Early Decision rounds, leaving fewer spots for the larger regular decision pool. For example:

  • Lehigh accepts 58% of their Early Decision applicants, filling 46% of the freshman class. Lehigh only accepts 28% of the Regular Decision applicants.
  • At Vanderbilt, they accept 22% of their Early Decision applicants, filling 51% of the class, and only 10% of those who apply Regular Decision are admitted.
  • With similar numbers at Wake Forest and Colgate, Colin realized that it would be to his advantage to choose one for Early Decision.

Luckily for Colin, his parents are easily able to fund his college education and he is not applying for financial aid. He is able to make a commitment to a college early in the process without weighing financial aid offers. But still, he feels that colleges are pushing him to make a final decision before he is ready.

And truthfully, they are! Early Decision offers many benefits to the colleges and few to students and families as a result. But the unfortunate reality is today’s students and parents have no choice but to adapt their application strategies to this reality.


The Facts About Applying Early: Is it Right for You? (College Board) 

Last Call List for Senior Year

Saying Goodbye to the Sidelines

Best High School Graduation Gifts 

Kristin M. White is an educational consultant with Darien Academic Advisors in Darien, CT and the author of The Complete Guide to the Gap Year: The Best Things to Do Between High School and College  and It’s the Student, Not the College: The Secrets of Succeeding at Any SchoolWithout Going Broke or Crazy.

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