When Not to Apply Early Decision

There are some circumstances when it’s better not to apply early, and you’re better off applying in the regular round instead.
October 22, 2018

Early Decision deadlines are coming up, and you’ve probably heard a lot of advice about why it’s a good idea to apply early to college. But there are some circumstances when it’s better not to apply early, and you’re better off applying in the regular round instead.

DO NOT APPLY EARLY IF YOU EXPECT YOUR CREDENTIALS TO IMPROVE BETWEEN THE EARLY DEADLINE AND THE REGULAR DEADLINE.

Are you at your most competitive in time for the early deadline? If you can get ten more points on the SAT and that would throw you into a different percentile, you're going to get more bang for your buck from your improved credentials than from an early application. It’s not unusual (especially for boys) for test scores at the end of 11th grade to be lower than they are even six month later. There can be meaningful gains on tests in that amount of time.

Similarly, some students don’t really catch fire academically until 11th grade, and being able to apply with those first semester grades from 12th grade is really important.

Bottom line: Applying early is good only in an “all else being equal” scenario, and you might have a good reason to wait.

IF YOU ARE APPLYING EARLY, BE SMART ABOUT WHERE YOU USE YOUR EARLY ADMISSIONS “CHIP.”

Because you’re allowed to apply Early Decision or Restrictive Early Action to only ONE school, you’ll have to make some strategy decisions. Maybe Stanford is your dream school but you’re not likely to get in. But if you used your early “chip” at Brown, that might be enough to make a difference in the outcome there. So what do you do? You’ll hear a lot of people tell you to “follow your dreams,” but you also want to be clear-eyed about where you’re likely to get in with the benefit of applying early. Applying early to a school where you’re not already competitive is wasting your early “chip.”

IF YOU WANT TO COMPARE FINANCIAL AID OFFERS, DON'T APPLY EARLY DECISION

If you're admitted through an early decision application, you will have to withdraw your applications everywhere else, and you won't be able to submit any new applications. So if financial aid is a factor in your decision about where to go to college, and you want to be able to compare financial aid offers and the actual, bottom-line price tags of different colleges you're admitted to, regular decision would be a better option for you.

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