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“I have to apply early. Everyone says I must if I want a shot at getting in.” These words are often followed by “I don’t know which school is right for me. I wish I could just apply regular decision.” I’ve heard this said too many times, in this and in previous college application seasons, to let it go.

High School students and their parents are bombarded with messages about why early decision (ED) is the right path. “Early Decision Can Help You Edge Out Your Competition,” says a Peterson’s staff person. “The early decision process increases a student’s chances of being admitted to selective colleges,” says Forbes on Twitter. “A college-admissions edge for the wealthy: Early decision,” says Nick Anderson of the Washington Post. They all echo the same, all too familiar, theme. After reading articles and postings on social media, and listening to well-meaning friends, relatives and colleagues, parents who want only the best for their children are pushing them to make decisions many high school seniors are just not ready to make.

For those of you not in the midst of the college application process, applying early ED means that students must select their first choice school early, usually by November 1st. Unlike Early Action (EA) and regular decision (RD), ED applications are binding. Students who choose ED are obligated to attend if accepted and must withdraw their other college applications upon acceptance to the ED school.

Many students apply ED because they want to be done with college applications and see ED as a way to do it. They believe they’re done – but all too often, learn in December that they’ve been denied or deferred to RD. They then must complete their applications over the winter break, feeling bummed and stressed because their ED school said no.

Parents should understand that colleges offer ED plans because it is best for them. ED helps colleges because yield (the percentage of accepted students that ultimately enroll) is one of the variables used to calculate a college’s selectivity and ranking, and each accepted ED student is guaranteed to enroll!

I’m not suggesting that students should never apply ED. I fact, sometimes I recommend that a student does. But I only give this advice to students who have carefully researched their options, are strong candidates for the school they “fell in love with” and who can tell me, without hesitation, which school they want to attend and why they are ready to make a binding commitment. If this doesn’t describe your teen, if he is uncertain about committing to a particular school, don’t push.

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