Applying to college can be an exciting yet stressful time for high school students. Many students consider applying early to their top choice school through early decision or early action. But there is often confusion around whether early decision is a binding commitment.
In short, yes – early decision is a binding commitment. If you are accepted through early decision, you agree to attend that school and withdraw any other college applications.
Let’s take a deeper look at how early decision works, key deadlines, and what it means for this application option to be “binding.”
How Is Early Decision Different From Early Action?
Early decision and early action allow you to apply to college early and receive an admissions decision early. But there is one key difference:
- Early Decision (ED) is binding – if accepted, you agree to attend the school.
- Early Action (EA) is not binding – you can apply early for a decision but don’t have to commit.
So early decision requires you to be very sure that a particular school is your top choice. It also means you can only apply early decision to one school.
Applying early action allows you to apply to multiple schools early without making any binding commitments. Top schools like Harvard and Yale only offer non-binding early action, not early decision.
How Does Early Decision Work?
The early decision application process itself is the same as regular decision. You simply need to be aware of earlier deadlines, usually in early November.
After applying, you’ll receive an admissions decision 4-6 weeks later, typically by mid-December. If accepted, you agree to immediately withdraw all other college applications and commit to attending that school.
Early decision acceptance rates are generally higher than regular decision, around 61% versus 49%. This is because early decision applicants are often highly qualified students who know that school is their top choice.
When Are Early Decision Deadlines?
Early decision deadlines are much earlier than regular decision, usually November 1 or 15. But each school sets their own deadlines, so be sure to check the specific dates.
Some schools offer Early Decision 1 (ED1) and Early Decision 2 (ED2) with different deadlines. ED1 is November 1 and ED2 is typically November 15 or January 1-5.
Here are some examples of early decision deadlines:
- Boston College – ED1 is November 1, ED2 is January 2
- Vanderbilt – ED1 is November 1, ED2 is January 1
- Columbia – One ED deadline of November 1
- NYU – ED1 is November 1, ED2 is January 1
- University of Chicago – ED1 is November 1, ED2 is January 4
How Binding Is Early Decision? What If I Change My Mind?
Early decision is an ethical commitment, not a legal one. If accepted ED, you agree to attend the school and withdraw all other applications.
However, schools won’t take legal action if you break the commitment. The main reasons you can back out ethically are:
- You don’t receive enough financial aid to afford attendance.
- An unexpected health issue comes up for you or a family member.
In these cases, contact the school right away to release you from the ED agreement. Otherwise, backing out unethically can jeopardize your chances at other schools.
The bottom line – only apply ED if the school is your clear first choice and you’re ready to commit if accepted. Do your research on costs and be sure you can afford to attend.
In summary, early decision is a binding commitment to attend a school if accepted. It allows you to apply early and get an admissions decision early. Make sure you understand the obligations before applying ED, and only do so if you’re sure the school is your undisputed first choice.