How Binding is Early Decision Really? Myths vs. Facts

Some colleges give senior high school students the chance to apply to them earlier than usual. Such is through early admission programs. Two common examples are Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA).

In this article, we will focus more on ED and ED enforcement. Along the way, we will also talk about EA as well as Regular Decision or RD.

So, how is Early Decision enforced?

Early decision is binding. It means that the student has no choice but to attend college. It also involves pulling out his or her applications to other colleges and making a deposit to the ED school. Failure by the student to honor the ED agreement could result in blacklisting by the college and other institutions.

While there are benefits that come with applying for Early Decision and being accepted, too, there are also a few downsides to it.

One of them is not being able to compare financial aid packages from different colleges.

Another is the inability to improve one’s high school resume by getting better grades and being involved with various activities during the remaining semester.

This is why a senior high school student should carefully weigh the pros and cons of applying ED. Before deciding to do so, he or she should put a lot of thought into it first.

Benefits of Early Decision

early decision deadline

Early Decision Applications Take Place Very Early

Typically, senior high school students apply to colleges in January or February. Colleges that they apply to, on the other hand, send the acceptance letters in March.

Applicants who receive their admission decision letters have up to May 1 to decide whether or not they will go to the colleges that accepted them. Should they decide to accept, they have to gear up for the start of classes in mid to late August.

As you can see, the entire process of applying to college can take place really quickly. High school students who are just a few weeks from graduation are expected to spring into action as fast as they can.

This is to ensure that they will be able to attend college the moment that they step foot outside the high school campus.

Such can be extremely stressful because, aside from applying to colleges, there are lots of tasks that senior high school students have to carry out at the same time.

Some of them include completing school projects, taking standardized exams, and, in some cases, retaking tests. Because they also have to apply to various colleges and wait for their decision letters to arrive, it’s no wonder why many senior high school students experience stress and anxiety.

This is when the benefit of applying ED steps in. Such early admission program can help relieve graduating high school students of some important undertakings before the Graduation March is played.

Once that they get their admission decision letters, which are usually sent out by ED colleges a month after, senior high school students can focus more on the tasks that they need to complete for them to be able to say goodbye to high school life with flying colors.

Applying ED Helps Reduce Stress and Anxiety

The first semester of high school starts in September. It lasts until either late January or in the middle of February. The second semester typically starts about two weeks after the end of the first semester.

During this time, senior high school students are fresh from applying to different colleges. It is also during the second semester of high school when many of them will get their acceptance letters.

Once accepted, they will also have to prepare for going to college.

Applying ED can help reduce the number of tasks that senior high school students have to carry out during the last couple of semesters.

That’s because, typically, Early Decision applications are done usually in November, which is just a month after the start of the second to the last semester senior students have to spend in high school.

What’s more, the admission decision letters from ED colleges are sent out the following month, which is December.

So, in other words, the whole process of applying to colleges and knowing the results can be completed before the first semester of senior high school is over.

Because of this, a senior high school student who applied ED and got accepted can have peace of mind that he or she has a college to go to after high school. The student may then devote all of his or her time and energy to performing well throughout the second semester.

Other senior high school students, on the other hand, have to apply to college during the second semester. This can divide their attention to different chores, each one just as important as the other.

Applying ED, as you can see, can help remove a lot of stress and anxiety in a senior high school student’s life.

How is Early Decision Enforced

Unfortunately, applying ED is not all peaches and cream. It’s true that it offers some perks. However, it is also something that comes with various conditions. These stipulations could be regarded as cons in some situations.

A student who is thinking about applying ED should be aware of these different matters. Otherwise, he or she may pay the consequences that come with failure to meet them.

It’s because of the certain requirements associated with Early Decision why some high school students do not see applying ED as an option. This is especially true for those who are going to college on a tight budget.

That’s because ED colleges do not reveal their financial aid packages to applicants. Needless to say, a student is deprived of the chance of comparing financial aids rewards and picking a college that suits the pocket the most.

However, that’s not the main issue concerned with applying ED. Once a student gets accepted by the college, he or she has no other choice but to go there. That’s because Early Decisions is binding.

Put simply, a high school student who gets accepted by means of an Early Decision is expected to matriculate. Such has to be done usually within a couple of weeks to a month after receiving the acceptance letter.

Backing out may seem like an easy option. However, it’s definitely not. One of the downsides of being accepted to a college ahead of everyone else in high school is that the student is bound to go to the ED college that admits him or her.

Failure to do so can come with consequences. Many of them are serious. Keep on reading to learn more about the things that could happen if the student changes his or her mind after successfully applying ED.

Is Early Decision Legally Binding?

One of the main features of an Early Decision is that it is binding. This means that a student who is accepted by a college as an ED applicant is obliged to go to it.

Also, because the student has to attend that college, it is expected for him or her to pull out applications to other schools. It is a good idea to perform this as soon as news of being accepted to the college under an ED program is received.

The only reason why the student may delay pulling out other college applications is that he or she is waiting to learn about the college’s financial aid.

However, just because an ED agreement is binding doesn’t mean that the student will go to jail in case he or she decides to change after being accepted by the ED college.

In other words, there will be no police officers that will show up at the doorstep and read the student’s Miranda Rights while he or she is being handcuffed.

There are indeed papers that have to be signed by the student as well as the parents and high school counselor. Those papers, however, are not considered legal documents.

This only means that they cannot be used as evidence in court should the accepted student decide to back out from the ED agreement. As a matter of fact, there is not going to be a court hearing or other penalties.

That’s because the ED college cannot sue the student for choosing a different school. Early decision is an honor-bound agreement or a gentleman’s agreement. It is not a legal agreement.

This doesn’t mean, however, that a student can walk away from the ED college without any consequence. There are prices to pay if the honor-bound agreement associated with an Early Decision is not acknowledged.

One of them is that the concerned student may have a challenging time going to another school.

young woman is thinking about pulling out from ED

What Happens if You Back Out of Early Decision

Something is going to happen if a student gets accepted by a college using the Early Decision but then decides to go to a different school. However, it is definitely not being locked up.

For a student who wants to go to a college that he or she likes and earn a degree there, refusing ED could mean failure to make his or her dreams come true.

That’s because the ED college will blacklist the student who changes his or her mind after being accepted. It only means that the student will no longer be able to apply to the same college next year, the following year, and in the years to come.

This is true even if he or she tries to apply Regular Decision, which is what most high school students do. So, in other words, the student who refuses ED has no other choice but to apply to another college.

However, there is another problem that may surface once he or she starts sending applications to other colleges. The student may find out that other colleges refuse to consider the application.

Needless to say, this has something to do with not respecting the binding aspect of ED from another school. Such speaks volumes about the credibility of the student. No college would want to have a deceptive student.

The student may also be reprimanded by his or her high school. That’s because the refusal to commit to the ED college can also ruin the reputation of the high school.

When word about the snubbing of the honor-bound agreement by one student reaches various colleges, they may no longer accept ED applications from the said high school.

Do Colleges Share Early Decision Lists?

Here’s the reason why various schools will surely know about a student’s withdrawal to attend the ED college: different colleges share Early Decision lists.

This fact is something that should make any student think twice before applying ED and later on backing out.

Various colleges find it advantageous for them to share ED lists because it can help protect them from students who do not respect the binding aspect of Early Decision.

Colleges can benefit from knowing the names of dishonest applicants. This allows them to devote their time and energy to ED applicants who are serious about going to their chosen colleges.

The consequences of applying Early Decision to more than one college can be even more awful. As earlier mentioned, ED application should only be made to a single college.

It’s nothing like other application methods such as EA and RD in which a student can approach as many colleges as he or she likes.

Colleges don’t like it when a student applies Early Decision to them all at the same time. What they are likely to do is that they will blacklist the student as soon as they learn about this.

Because the various ED colleges involved will blacklist the student, he or she has no other choice but to apply elsewhere. However, this is when one more consequence of backing out from ED acceptance comes into view.

There is a huge possibility of many other colleges to follow suit in blacklisting the said student even if he or she did not apply ED to them.

early decision or late?

Can You Get Out of Early Decision If You Can’t Afford It?

Just because ED is binding doesn’t mean that there is no way out of it. There is one valid reason why a student may back out of the agreement without annoying the school that accepted him or her.

It’s the inability of the student to afford matriculation because of a small financial aid package offered by the ED college.

One of the things that a student applying ED should bear in mind is that he or she won’t be able to know the amount of the college’s financial aid package.

The amount can be revealed to the student only after being welcomed to the college. This is why students who are applying ED have to research very carefully about the financial aid awards provided by the colleges.

Unfortunately, the amount of financial aid that they read on the internet, hear from their friends, or get using net price calculators is not always accurate. What they can get their hands on are only estimates.

This is why the desire to go to a particular college should be the number one reason for applying ED to it.

The cost should not be a consideration, especially because the financial aid package can be known only after acceptance. A few weeks after getting the news, a student is required to make a non-refundable deposit.

If the financial aid award is too small, a student who is not from a wealthy family may not be able to afford to go to the ED college.

The good news is that this is a valid reason for pulling out from the ED agreement without resulting in blacklisting by the college as well as other schools.

So, in other words, it is possible for a student to withdraw from going to the ED college after being accepted to it by means of Early Decision application.

However, there is a huge gap between what college things you (or rather parents) can afford or and how much parents can really afford.

So, while it is possible to ask college from ED binding, there is a high chance that they might reject your request.

Other Valid Reasons to Back Out from ED

Aside from financial constraints, there are a few other reasons that are regarded by colleges as valid reasons for successful ED applicants to back out.

Most of the time, however, it’s not being able to afford the overall cost of studying why a school may allow a student to walk out of the ED agreement unscathed.

Having a sick parent or immediate family member is considered as a good reason to not go to the ED college, although this is not really something good for the student.

This is especially true if the available funds for the student’s education will have to be allotted for the hospitalization and other medical needs. The Early Decision college may also let go of the student without any repercussions if he or she has to provide care.

Being diagnosed with a health problem is another justifiable reason for backing out of the ED agreement. Naturally, a sick student may not be able to regularly go to school or study very well. This can have a considerable effect on his or her performance.

A student may also be allowed by the ED college to quit going there if he or she has an accident and needs plenty of time to bounce back from it.

As you can see, ED colleges are not cold-blooded schools. Even if an Early Decision is binding, they may allow a successful ED applicant to back out from the honor-bound agreement.

This is particularly true if the reason for doing so is valid. Provided that the grounds for withdrawing makes a lot of sense, there are no repercussions that the student has to pay for deciding not to go to the ED college.

Early Action, Early Decision vs. Regular Decision Acceptance Rates

While it’s true that some senior high school students find it intimidating to apply ED, there are others who prefer to apply to colleges via such an approach.

One of the reasons for this is that they have heard that it is likelier for them to get accepted compared to applying Early Action and Regular Decision.

This is the reason why the acceptance rate of applying ED is higher: it shows that the student prefers the college more than any other school. Naturally, a college will be more than happy to welcome someone who sees it as the ultimate learning institution.

There is one more reason why a student is likely to get accepted when applying ED: it’s that he or she is what the college is looking for in terms of grades, skills, talents and campus culture.

However, you may be surprised to learn that even though the Early Decision acceptance rate is higher, it’s not that different from the EA and RD.

What’s more, it varies from one college to the next. That’s because different colleges use different criteria when selecting students applying ED, EA, and RD.

Check out the table below to see for yourself that the acceptance rates can vary tremendously:

InstitutionED RateEA RateRD Rate
Babson College23.7% 39.4%23.0%
Colorado College18.3%27.4%8.5%
Dickinson College57.8%67.9%36.2%
Harvard University14.5%2.9%
Fordham University53.9%53.4%39.5%
Rhodes College55.8% 62.6% 30.8%
Santa Clara University 63.3%72.6%38.6%
Spelman College 56.2%36.1%28.8%
Texas Christian University            58.2%33.4%20.5%
Trinity University64.8%79.2%8.2%
Tulane University24.9%32.2% 1.4%
University of Miami 55.6%44.3%20.9%
Vanderbilt University20.6%20.6%6.1%

When looking for a similar table on the internet, you may come across schools whose ED rate or EA rates are blank. That’s because not all schools are offering Early Decision and/or Early Action.

As a matter of fact, it is estimated that only 450 colleges offer ED or EA application, or both. So before you attempt to apply ED or EA to a college, make sure that it does accept such.

Besides, you are expected to know whether or not you can apply ED or EA to your preferred college, as you should learn as many important information about it beforehand.

Is Early Decision Binding for All 4 Years?

Once again, if the college accepts your ED application, you are bound to attend that school.

Needless to say, you are expected to pull out your applications to other colleges as soon as you get your acceptance letter, which is usually sent by the ED college a month after you applied to it.

In addition, you are expected to make a deposit to seal the deal. This is usually done a couple of weeks to a month after acceptance.

You may be wondering if the Early Decision requires you to go to the ED college not only during the first semester but through the rest of your college years, too.

If the ED agreement does last for four years, then you have no other choice but to stay in the school that accepted you until the time that you earn your degree.

This can be a problem especially if you are not like other students whose available college funds are unlimited.

A study once said that the cost of college increased by about 8% every year. The problem with this is that matriculation tends to rise faster than financial aid rates, thus making higher education hard on the pocket of students from non-wealthy families.

Well, the good news is that ED is not binding for all four years of college. So if a college accepts you through an ED agreement, and after a few semesters, you can no longer afford it, you may transfer to a different school. You may also do so for any other reason.

It’s important to emphasize the fact that ED is binding in the admission process.

This means that once your application is approved, you will have to pull out your application to other schools, pay the deposit, and go to that college when the school year starts.

By doing these steps, you are honoring the gentleman’s agreement between you and the ED college. Since you are past the admission process after a year or so, then the binding part of ED is no longer intact.

However, one of the main reasons why a student applies ED is that he or she wants to attend that college as well as graduate from it.

Being accepted to the school of his or her dreams should keep the student from wanting to go to a different one because he or she is already in the perfect school.

The Consequences of Not Honoring the Agreement

Because of the possible consequences of not going through with an Early Decision agreement, it doesn’t come as a surprise why some students are intimidated by applying ED.

This is why it is not a good idea to apply for such if students are not 100% sure of the college of their choice. The same is true if their available budget for college is limited.

For senior high school students who wish to make their last semester less stressful and exhausting, they can apply to college earlier than usual, just like applying ED. And similar to applying ED, it enables them to know right away if they are accepted or denied, too.

However, this solution is not binding. So, in other words, students may still apply to different colleges. This helps increase their chances of being accepted to at least one.

This alternative to ED is referred to as Early Action, and it has a few things in common with Early Decision. For instance, EA applications are typically made in November, just like ED applications.

Colleges respond quickly to Early Action applicants, too. The following month, applicants already have their admission decision letters.

This is great news for those who are accepted by EA colleges. That’s because, unlike the rest of senior high school students, they already have an idea where they will go to college even before the first semester of their last year in high school ends.

Because of this, they can focus more on getting better grades. It also gives them plenty of time to take care of various things just before they start their college years.

Early Action as an Alternative

What’s really nice about Early Action is that it’s not binding. So, in other words, a student who is accepted to the college by means of an EA agreement is not required to go to that school.

As a matter of fact, the high school student has complete freedom to choose from among the different colleges that he or she applied to.

Yes, it is very much possible to apply Early Action to various colleges at the same time. It’s nothing like ED in which a student can apply to only one college.

In Early Action, the student simply has to choose one EA college and back out from all the rest. But he or she doesn’t have to decide in a hurry.

That’s because the student has until May 1 to choose the college that he or she prefers, just like other high school students applying regular decision.

However, EA is not the perfect way to apply to college early. There are a few downsides associated with it, just like ED. For instance, a student applying EA may experience reduced financial aid opportunities.

It’s for the fact that colleges assume that someone who applies in this manner is coming from a wealthy family.

Another negative matter that is commonly associated with Early Action is what’s known as senioritis. Put simply, it’s the decline in a senior high school student’s performance.

Such is because the student is confident that there is a college that he or she can go to after graduation. Unfortunately, the so-called senioritis can cause the EA as well as ED college to revoke the student’s admission upon learning about his or her sudden poor performance.

So, if you are certain that you want to go to a particular college and that you are willing to pay the tuition no matter how high it is, consider applying ED.

Just make sure that you are aware not only of the benefits it brings but also the downsides associated with it.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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