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The pros and cons of applying Early Decision

By Lee Bierer
Lee Bierer
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.

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  • Chapel Hill common app news

    Because of technical issues with the common application, UNC Chapel Hill has extended its Early Action deadline to Oct. 21 (11:59 p.m.). If you are having issues with your Common Application and facing imminent deadlines, contact the admissions office directly where you're applying to find out if they might also extend deadlines.


Traditional college application deadlines had always been in January. But early admissions programs that include Early Action, Early Action II, Early Decision I, Early Decision II and a few other programs have become more popular and are forcing many high school seniors to hurry up and stress out.

Early Decision (ED) is a binding application program typically with a Nov. 1 deadline. Students are notified whether they have been accepted, rejected or whether their application has been deferred to regular decision before Christmas. Because it is binding, students who choose to apply ED, and are accepted, must withdraw any other college applications. Students may only apply to one college ED and the student’s parents and Guidance Counselor must sign an agreement.

Early Decision can, the operative word here is “can” offer a significantly higher acceptance rate, depending on the college. In the 2014 edition of Princeton Review’s “The Best 378 Colleges,” Elon University received 399 Early Decision applications and accepted 86 percent.

Their regular decision acceptance rate is listed as 52 percent. If you love Elon and know deep down that if you are accepted that’s where you’d love to go, then applying Early Decision and knowing within six weeks is a very good thing.

Davidson College also notes a 25 percent acceptance rate for regular decision and that jumps to 50 percent for ED. But, not all colleges are so generous. In the 2011-2012 cycle, Wake Forest received 762 ED applications and accepted 42 percent. Their regular decision acceptance rate was 39.85 percent.

When a student applies ED, they are a captive audience. The college doesn’t have to wonder where else they’re applying and whether they’ll come if accepted. A college’s yield is the number of students that say “yes” to the college’s offer of admission.

Colleges are measured on their yield percentage and ED applicants increase the yield. Many colleges fill as much as half their class with ED candidates. The regular decision pool can then become more competitive because they are frequently looking to balance the class, i.e., they may need more theater majors, more students from Kansas or more soccer players.

Additionally, colleges want happy campers. If a student has applied ED, they’re saying it’s their first choice. The biggest downside of ED is that students can’t compare financial aid offers, which are typically made in March.

A word of caution: Don’t apply ED if you can’t convincingly declare your commitment.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com
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