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Your Guide To Applying to College Early Decision

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

November is quickly approaching, and with the onset of cornbread and cold weather also comes those Early Decision deadlines. Right now, you might be trying to choose between two schools for ED, you might be trying to figure out if it’s ‘worth it’, or you might be wondering what ED even is. We’re here to give you all the basics and help you decide if applying to college via an Early Decision plan is right for you.

What Is Early Decision?

Early Decision is a binding application plan. If you choose to apply ED to a school and are accepted, you must attend. This means that, before you formally submit your application, you, a parent or guardian, and a school counselor will be required to sign a document stating your intent to attend if admitted. You will be unable to withdraw from this agreement.

You can still apply to multiple colleges even if you apply ED. However, you may only ED to one school—any other schools you apply to must be under non-restrictive Early Action or Regular Decision plans. And, if accepted to your first-choice school, you must withdraw all your other applications. It sounds like a big sacrifice to make, but the point of ED is that some people may find schools for which this sacrifice is worth it.

Are There Different ‘Types’ of Early Decision?

Some schools offer both Early Decision 1 and Early Decision 2 programs, meaning that you can choose to apply ED to a school in either November or in January. ED 1 may be a good fit for an applicant who feels well-prepared to apply early and knows that the school is their first choice; ED 2 presents benefits for students who may need more time to work on their application, build up a strong first-semester senior report card, or explore options.

I personally chose to apply ED 1 to my current school because I knew without a doubt that it was where I wanted to go; I also was able to prepare my application before November 1. However, I know of people who were admitted ED 2 and chose to apply that way because they wanted more time to research schools. No one plan is better than the other—it all depends on your circumstances.

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What Are the Pros and Cons of Applying Early Decision?

The biggest benefit of ED is that, if accepted, you’re done much earlier than most. Plus, you may save the time and money you might have otherwise spent on submitting many more applications. Instead of enduring that painfully long wait until April, you will receive your decision by mid-December. When I was accepted through ED, I felt a weight lift off of my shoulders; I knew I would be able to enjoy the rest of my senior year without worrying about college anymore.

However, ED has its drawbacks. Because an applicant is bound to attend if admitted, this means they will not be able to receive and compare financial aid offers from multiple schools. Whatever financial aid package is offered to an ED applicant must be accepted. ED is often criticized as giving an unfair advantage to wealthier students who can afford to attend regardless of what is offered to them. For this reason, we recommend applying ED to schools that pledge to meet 100% of demonstrated financial need.

What’s the Difference Between Early Decision and Early Action?

Early Decision is binding, and Early Action is not. Under Early Action, you will apply early and receive a decision early, but you will not be obligated to go.

How Do I Choose a School for ED?

It’s best not to go into your college search looking specifically for a school to apply ED to, because that may add a lot of pressure. Instead, try searching more generally—and if you happen to find the school that fits you and feels right, then you should apply ED.

A school that you apply ED to should check all of your boxes—academic, social, extracurricular. It should offer a strong course of study in your area of interest (or good exploratory options if you’re undecided), a campus and surrounding area that you love, and opportunities for involvement in which you can see yourself participating.

Should I Apply ED?

This isn’t a decision you should make lightly, and it’s not for everyone. Early Decision is appropriate for a student who’s done enough research to know that this is the college for them and who has a relatively strong, consistent academic profile. It is not a good fit for someone who isn’t sure of what they want from a school, or for someone who may need their fall semester to show an upward grade trajectory in order to be competitive. Above all—cheesy as it is—you have to know from the bottom of your heart that the school is right for you.

If you’re ready to start exploring your options, we recommend using our College Search Tool to find your perfect fit. You can filter by majors, school size, cost, selectivity, and much more.

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Author: Julianna Chen

Julianna Chen is currently in her second year at Emory University, where she studies creative writing and Chinese. She is the managing editor of Lithium Magazine and a contributing writer for When not writing, she is watching a movie or eating a stroopwafel, sometimes both at the same time.