Early Decision (ED) notifications will be released within the next few days, and many students might start to double guess their binding decision.
There are about 450 colleges that have an early decision application, which allows students to submit their material before the regular deadline. Usually, the early deadline will be in the fall or early winter and can have many different advantages. Applying ED can help your top college know that you are serious about attending. Early decision is binding; if you are accepted, you are committed to attending that college.
There are advantages to applying ED. According to U.S. News data, the average ED acceptance rate at the top 20 national liberal arts colleges was 38.8% for the 2016-2017 academic year, versus an 18.8% average general acceptance rate. One of the most competitive colleges in the nation, Duke, admitted 21% of the students that applied ED in 2018, compared to just 6.4% of its regular decision applicants. Students who want to get into highly competitive colleges might find that it is worthwhile to apply early decision.
The rules can be intense for a high college student. Some students will doubt their decision, even when they receive their acceptance letter for ED. As most colleges release their early decision in December, you won’t be able to compare financial offers from other colleges. Because the decision is binding, if you find your perfect college later in your senior year, you might have regrets about getting accepted into your ED college. So what can you do if you change your mind?
What Are The Rules Of ED?
Here are the general rules and timeline of early decision:
- Apply early – usually in November – to your top choice university.
- You can only apply to one college early decision. The rest you can apply under early action and regular admission. Note – restrictive early action is not allowed.
- When you send in your application, you and your parents have to sign an agreement and notify your counselor who must also sign off on the contract. It states that you will agree to attend the college if accepted and offered an adequate financial package.
- Decisions are sent usually mid-December. If admitted, you must withdraw all other applications.
- Inform the college of your acceptance and send a nonrefundable deposit well in advance of the usual May 1 “decision day.”
Is ED Legally Binding?
If you do get accepted into a college you applied ED, you are bound by an honor code to attend. Remember, you, your parents and even your guidance counselor signed a contract that stated if you were accepted into the college, you would enroll. However, while you did sign an agreement, it is not legally binding, and there will be no legal ramifications if you do reject the offer. The college cannot force you to attend or hold you legally responsible for the tuition and fees associated with attending. If you do decide to reject the offer due to financial reasons, you won’t have to pay a deposit or owe the college any money. No ED “rules” or honor code is broken, and you are free to attend another college.
One of the main reasons students reject an ED offer is due to financial reasons. Perhaps you were expecting a more substantial scholarship, and it is just not financially viable to go to that college. In that case, let the university know that due to economic reasons it will be a financial struggle to attend the college. Your parent or guardian does not need to show any proof or documentation of financial need. However, if you are able to show financial need, there is a higher chance the college would increase your financial aid offer to make it viable to attend. Remember, the college accepted you and wants you to enroll. Many students mistakenly think that they cannot negotiate their financial award; they are wrong.
How To Negotiate
If the college doesn’t offer you enough money, you can negotiate. The parents/guardians can explain in a letter that they need more financial aid to make attending possible. It is advisable to also set up a meeting with the college. The parents can demonstrate that they need a more significant financial package to make attendance possible. It is also a good idea to go into the meeting already know how much money is needed.
The college can choose to reject, negotiate or accept the parents’ offer. It is now back up to the parents and students if they want to attend. Remember, if you do still choose to reject based on financial reasons, you aren’t breaking any ED “rules.” Also, if the college does not offer any additional financial aid, they will not withdraw your offer of acceptance. The worst that can happen is they say “no.” You are still accepted into the college and able to attend.
Breaking ED For Other Reasons
Backing out of the early decision offer varies depending on the college. Some colleges are much more lenient and accepting of other reasons, whereas others take it much more seriously. Rod Oto, the associate dean of admissions at Carleton College, said that if a student wants to withdraw from an ED offer, he will first try to follow up with them to discover why. Oto said he might call other colleges the student has applied to or the high college counselor. While it isn’t his intention to get every college to withdraw their offers of admittance, he does want to make sure the student knows that Carleton College is not happy. However, the bottom line is that an early decision offer is just a gentleman’s agreement, and the college can’t force you to do anything.
While it might seem far-fetched that colleges will communicate with each other, it is a very real possibility. In 2016, Katharine Fretwell, dean of admission and financial aid at Amherst College, said that her college and about 30 other colleges, share lists of students admitted through early decision. She said that she is likely also to share names of students who were accepted during ED, but choose not to attend to due to financial aid or other reasons. Currently, the Justice Department is investigating this issue of colleges sharing information.
What Happens If You Apply To Two Colleges ED?
You might think you can beat the system by applying to two colleges early decision, but this would backfire on you. Even though ED isn’t legally binding, you are still bound to an honor code that colleges take very seriously. Your high college counselor – who has to sign off on all early decision applicants – might contact the colleges if they see you applying to more than one college ED. Many of the counselors have spent years building up a relationship with the college and having a student break an ED agreement can do damage to that relationship. In addition, if the college were to find out that the student had applied to another college ED, or even restrictive early action, they could call up the other college, and the student might risk losing both acceptances.
Remember, the early decision agreement is not binding, and you can get out if it. No matter what your reasons for reconsidering your early decision acceptance, you need to make sure you are communicating clearly and honestly with both your counselor, family, and the university. It is important to take the decision to apply ED seriously: you are bound by an honor code, and no rules should be broken.