One of the most significant decisions facing high school seniors is whether to apply for Early Decision (ED) in the college applications process. ED and its cousin Early Action (EA) are programs employed by many of the most highly ranked and toughest-admit schools in the country.The equation for ED is a straightforward one — for an expression of committed interest, colleges let applicants know early in their senior year if they’ve been admitted. Those fortunate enough to receive a favorable nod enjoy a much less stress filled journey to high school graduation.
Early Decision (as opposed to some EA plans) is binding; students are able to apply at one and only one ED college window.
Overall, based on recent figures, about a third of 100,000 high school seniors who invoked the “early option” received favorable news. In that regard,there are differences between ED and EA to keep in mind. The EA routes at Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale require applicants to apply to only one school; those avenues are non-binding. EA at schools such as Boston College, Chicago, Georgetown, MIT, and Notre Dame permits students to apply to multiple EA institutions. This underlines that are many variations in policy covering early entrance.
In terms of results, ED acceptances also vary widely, from a low of 20 percent at Brown to a high of 66 percent at Bucknell. At EA colleges, taking Harvard, Yale, and Stanford as examples, acceptance rates were generally lower, all under 20 percent. A key to evaluation of ED (and EA) is comparison of relative admission rates. At Williams College, 41 percent of students who utilized the ED road were admitted. The acceptance rate in regular decision was approximately 17 percent. At Vanderbilt, the ED acceptance percentage was in the 33 range; regular admissions showed an acceptance rate of about 16 percent.
In sum, ED and EA should be closely considered by seniors as part of application strategy if one school “rises to the top.” The reality of admissions numbers is that, for every early admittee, there is one less seat available in regular decision.