Early Decision

Binding commitment
Early decision is a binding decision, meaning that students must withdraw applications to other schools if accepted. It is not legally binding, but there is a commitment involved with penalties for withdrawing for spurious reasons. Advisers suggest that this method is only for students who are absolutely certain about wanting to attend a specific school. If financial aid is a concern or if a family is "shopping for the best deal", then it is usually advised to apply early action or regular decision instead. The one stipulated situation under which a student may back out of the agreement is if the financial aid offer is insufficient. A student who backs out for other reasons may be "blacklisted" by the early decision college, which may contact the student's high school guidance office,and prevent it from sending transcripts to other colleges, and high schools generally comply with such requests. In addition, the jilted college may contact other colleges about the withdrawal, and the other colleges would likely break off their offers of acceptance as well. And by the time that an early decision aid package is offered it may be March or April of senior year, and then if a student backs out at that point for financial reasons, valuable time may be lost.

November application
It is made early in the academic year, typically the first week in November, although deadlines vary somewhat, so a student who applies for early decision and is accepted, typically by mid-December, must attend that college.One report maintains that some colleges defer decisions on some early applicants until the next year, past their own deadlines for notifying early applicants.

Benefits for universities
Admitting early decision applicants benefits schools because there is an almost certain
probability that the admitted applicants will attend and, as a result, colleges can increase their yield by admitting them, and this can help a college improve its ranking. In addition, it helps admissions departments spread the work of sifting through applications throughout more of the school year. Generally counselors suggest this option is only for students who know with certainty that one particular college is their first choice.

Greater chance of acceptance
There is strong consensus that applying early decision brings a greater statistical chance of being accepted, possibly doubling or tripling the chances of an acceptance letter. In 2009, the average early acceptance rate according to one estimate was 15 percentage points greater than regular decision applicants. There is less agreement, however, whether it will help a borderline student win acceptance to a competitive college. There are numerous reports that early decision candidates tend to have stronger educational credentials than regular decision candidates, and as a result, these candidates would have been admitted whether they applied by early or regular methods, and therefore the greater statistical likelihood of acceptance may have been explained by membership in the stronger applicant pool. But a more widely held view is that early decision method boosts the chances of a borderline student; as Robert J. Massa of Lafayette College explained, "colleges really want qualified students who want them" and are more likely to offer acceptances to students ready to make a full commitment. There was a report that the "acceptance rate gap" between early and regular decision--currently an average of 57% accepted if applied early decision versus 50% if applied regular decision--has been narrowing in recent years.

Other benefits
Seniors can know sooner where they will attend and can get the hassle and uncertainty of the applications process over sooner. There is less work and expense applying to other colleges.

How early decision affects financial aid
There are conflicting reports about how early decision affects aid offers. The more widely held view is that a student's bargaining position is weaker because the student cannot compare offers from different colleges. Since the applicant is declaring an intention to attend if accepted, then the school can "pinpoint the smallest amount of financial aid it will take for the student to attend." There have been reports of problems with early Decision aid offers falling below levels that had been expected prior to applying. A report in the Chicago Tribune suggested that applying early decision could cost "thousands more than necessary." A report in US News pointed to a research study concluding that regular decision applicants get more financial aid than early ones. Lynn O'Shaughnessy described early decision as "essentially applying blind" because a student has agreed to attend before seeing the financial aid package; and this practice "favors rich students." A second report confirms that early decision applicants tend to come from wealthier families. However, a contrasting view is that students who apply early have an advantage getting aid because they are applying earlier in the year when that aid is being doled out, and the early decision kids have "first crack at the money," particularly at competitive schools without extra-large endowments. Two reports suggested that while a student's bargaining position is somewhat weaker, it is not totally diminished, and that if a college thinks an early decision admittee may withdraw because of financial concerns, the college "may pull out all the stops" to prevent this, and that the possibility of backing out for financial reasons gives an applicant some form of negotiating leverage. Ivy League universities and other universities with large endowments may be somewhat different, in the sense that all aid offers are likely to be based solely on financial need, and that whether an applicant applied by early or regular methods would have no impact on the resulting financial aid package, according to one report.