Whether or not to apply Early Decision (ED) is a question that students agonize over every year, and it’s never an easy decision. As admission consultants in Hong Kong, we ensure our students make the choice that best fits their needs and situation.
First of all, what is Early Decision, and why is it such a big deal? ED is a binding admissions pathway run by many, but not all, universities where students, their parents, and their school counselors sign a contract that states they will commit to going to that university if accepted. As an ED applicant, you will need to immediately withdraw all applications to other universities, even those outside of the U.S. The timelines for Early Decision are also, well, earlier, with students applying by around Nov 1 to Nov 15, and finding out their results in mid to late December. Due to the binding nature of Early Decision, this also means that the acceptance rates are often higher than those for Regular Decision.
So even though there are many advantages to applying Early Decision, many factors go into deciding how best to make use of that for you. Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions and misconceptions we get about Early Decision.
1: Should everyone have an ED choice?
No! While it’s becoming increasingly common to talk about “dream colleges”, you should only apply Early Decision to a college if you are willing and able to commit to that college. That means you need to be ready to give up all of your other offers from all other countries. It needs to make financial sense. And you need to be absolutely sure that it’s a university you would love to go to as well.
With that said, choosing to apply ED doesn’t mean that you think your university of choice is perfect either – there is no such thing as a perfect university after all! While all selective universities have plenty of good qualities, you do need to have a discussion about any potential flaws or mismatches in your choice, and whether that is something you can acknowledge and accept.
2: Are my chances better if I ED?
No! Well, not necessarily. While the acceptance rates for ED applicants can often be higher (sometimes significantly so), the acceptance rate by itself doesn’t paint the whole picture. Legacies, recruits, and donors are often required to apply through ED, and these “nearly guaranteed” applicants will artificially inflate the perceived acceptance rate of ED applicants. ED applicants can also be far more self-selecting, with only extremely well-prepared and strong students applying – making the competition extremely fierce.
As an admissions consultant in Hong Kong, I’ve advised numerous students to increase their chances of getting in by NOT applying ED: sometimes, it’s because the student needs more time to perfect their application essays. Other times, it’s because the student needs time to improve the grades. With the multitude of factors that play into US admissions, the perceived higher acceptance rate of ED can be misleading, and you should always assess your own specific situation before deciding whether Early Decision makes sense for you.
3: Do I have less work to do if I ED?
No! Most Early Decision offers come out in mid to late December. With most students in Hong Kong spending weeks to months writing essays for each of their universities, you can’t afford to wait until your ED results are out before beginning work on your remaining applications. That means that you still have to work on and complete most of your college essays before you find out whether you get in early or not.
You do have some leeway to wait on your ED results before submitting your applications, but don’t leave those applications untouched!
4: Should my ED choice always be the highest ranking college on my college list?
No! Dream colleges can come in all shapes and forms, and may not necessarily just be the most difficult or highest ranking university you are applying for. With holistic admissions being practiced in all selective U.S. universities, it also doesn’t mean that the difficulty of different universities is a straight scale. Instead, as Admissions Consultants we help our students understand whether a particular choice can fulfill their needs and aspirations when deciding which school, if any, you should apply Early Decision. In some cases, I have even had students who applied ED to their “easier” Target schools rather than their Reach schools, because they actually liked the Target school even more!
5: Do all universities allow Early Decision applications?
No! In fact, the majority of universities don’t allow binding Early Decision applications. Many in the top rankings, such as Harvard, Stanford, and MIT don’t practice ED – because they can be confident that any student that they accept is likely to accept their offer (i.e. high yield rate). Other universities, mostly in the top 50s-100s and beyond also don’t practice ED, because they believe it is unfair to students to commit to a university without comparing financial aid packages. However, in the “sweet spot” between the top 10s to top 50s which most Hong Kong students strive for, many universities do run Early Decision programs. These universities are also competing amongst themselves for strong students, and binding Early Decision agreements allow them to secure their student body earlier. Of course, there are always exceptions to these ranges, but the general trend among selective universities is to use Early Decision when they have many “near equal” peers competing for the same pool of students.
Finding a college to apply Early Decision can feel like a big commitment, and it should be. But as an applicant, despite the advantages there might be to applying ED, you should never feel pressured to do it if it doesn’t make sense for you. Finding a college that fits you and that you would love to attend is more important than trying to “game” the admissions system. But if you’re not sure about what college might be the best fit for you, come talk to one of our consultants today!
Quantum Prep is an education consultancy that focuses on placing their students at the best colleges or universities. We boast of diverse results. In addition to the traditional rap sheet of prestigious university acceptances, our consultants like to highlight the different paths they have sent students on. All of our students are different; we are proud of our one-on-one tailored approach towards university counselling. Contact us for a complimentary 30-minute initial meeting, where you can get tailored individualized advice on how to put your best foot forward. Read our reviews to see what our clients think of us.
By Conrad Yu, Director of Development