What’s your ED? Don’t be surprised if you hear students asking each other this question as autumn approaches. It has become common knowledge among US-bound students that applying under an EarlyDecision (ED) application plan can increase their likelihood of gaining admission. With university acceptance rates low and continuing to fall, this powerful strategy should be considered by students who have a clear favorite destination for their university studies. In this article, we’ll look at recent trends and share what you should know to determine if ED is best for you.
Early Decision (ED) is a binding application that commits students to enroll at a university if admitted. ED applicants are often admitted at a rate two or three times higher compared to the non binding RegularDecision (RD) round. ASD senior Kimaya D'silva explains that she “applied ED because I wanted to maximize my chances of being accepted. The fact that ED decisions come out in early December also played a big role in my decision. I wanted to hear back from my top choice school early so if I wasn’t accepted, I would have enough time to plan my next steps accordingly.”
Why are ED acceptance rates higher? Universities value ED because it helps them manage their yield – the ratio of students who actually enroll to places offered. Yield is an important factor in planning a freshman class, and rankings organization stake it into account as well. For this reason, many universities fill half or more of their incoming class from ED applicants. As an example, Dartmouth received 28,841 applications for the Class of 2027 and made 1,798 offers, resulting in a 6.2% overall acceptance rate.However, 578 or 32% of these offers were made to ED applicants. Given that Dartmouth enrolls approximately 1100 freshmen each year, this means that it fills over 50% of its class through ED. With an ED acceptance rate of 19% or three times the overall rate, it’s no surprise that the University’s ED pool has increased steadily over the past three years.
The table above shows the data released by a selection of popular universities offering ED in the USA. As a result of the admissions‘ boost,’ binding ED applications have risen significantly in recent years. Furthermore, given the advantages to both students and colleges, many institutions now offer two rounds of ED. The first, ED1, usually has a deadline around November1st, with decisions coming out in December. The ED2 deadline is typically in line with RD deadlines – around January 1st – however, ED2 decisions tend to come out in February, well before RD in late March. If students are unsuccessful with their first choice for ED1, then they can ED their next favorite in the ED2 round. Ivy Options has seen many students use this strategy successfully. Many of our students who were successful in ED2 say they are so thankful that they ended up where they did – they can’t imagine being happier elsewhere, even at their ED1.
That said, Early Decision is not for everyone. Usually, students hoping to compare financial aid packages across universities are better off applying under Regular Decision plans rather than ED. Butros Khouri, accepted to Tulane in the ED1 round, was at first “worried about the financial side.However, I was fortunate to receive a scholarship for the entirety of my tuition for the coming years.” Also, students who are strongly interested in universities outside the United States should remember that the binding ED agreement will prevent them from accepting other offers – even overseas. An ED application involves a four-party contract between the university, student, parents, and school counselor; once a student has been admitted in the ED round, he or she is morally obligated to with draw all other applications. If a student does not followthrough on these withdrawals, the university may rescind the offer and inform other colleges. Butros advises, “Applying ED is a serious thing. You are committing yourself to only one university (if you are admitted). You should apply ED if you know that you would pick that university over any other of your options without hesitation.”
Some universities, includingHarvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and Caltech offer a different early application plan known as Restrictive Early Action (REA). Under this plan, students may not apply to any other private universities in the early round, and the admissions decision is non-binding. Other universities like Georgetown and Notre Dame offer REA plans that allow students to apply to other private universities; however, applicants may not apply ED to another school. Unfortunately, REA applications generally provide less of an admissions advantage compared to ED. These ultra-selective universities use REA to fill their sports teams, accept legacies, and award places to highly qualified underprivileged students through broadening access programs. They also admit superstars with special achievements in the arts or sciences, and take a very small number of other exceptional students. Acceptances are possible during the REA round, but for almost everyone except legacies and athletes, the chances are equally good in Regular Decision.
The main problem with applying REA, beyond the lack of a measurable admissions bump, is that it prevents students from participating in the autumn ED round. Imagine a student who is torn between Yale and Brown. If she applies REA to Yale and gets turned down, she’ll have to apply RD to Brown, decreasing her chances significantly. If this student loves both colleges equally, she’d be wiser to apply ED to Brown; hopefully, she’ll be admitted, but even if she is deferred or rejected, she’d still have a chance at Yale in the RD round.
Using the example above, we advise students to ask themselves: which way am I more unhappy – if I apply ED to Brown, get in, and never know if I would’ve gotten into Yale, OR if I apply REA to Yale, get turned down, and don’t get into Brown in the RD round either.
For international students, it’s even more valuable to use the strategic ED advantage when possible because the international admissions rates at elite universities are even lower than the overall figures, which naturally include outcomes for domestic students.
There are a variety of other reasons why our students have chosen to commit to the Early Decision admissions process. Many students appreciate the peace of mind that comes from finishing the admissions process earlier in senior year. Mert Iren, an Ivy Options student who was accepted ED into Carnegie Mellon University’s highly competitive School of Computer Science, explains this feeling well: “When I was accepted, I was extremely excited since CMU was at the top of my list. I was also very relieved as a lot of my friends were still working on their applications, but I had figured out where I was going for university.”
Students who are unsure if they have a clear favorite must do their due diligence by researching school fit. Mert also advises, “I would recommend that juniors put in a lot of thought about applying ED. Although it partially limits your freedom, it's also a great opportunity to increase your chances of success at a university you really like. It might seem a bit stressful committing to a university earlier than the regular deadline, but if there’s a university that heavily aligns with your goals, this opportunity should definitely be taken.”
We advise allstudentsto carefully consider the potential power of a thoroughly and thoughtfully researched ED application. It may be the secret to securing a coveted place in your dream school!