In the coming weeks college-bound students who applied Early Decision (aka ‘ED’) to their first-choice school should be receiving notice: ‘In’, ‘Out’ or quite often ‘Deferred’.

In this post I will presume that students who have applied Early Decision and their families have done their homework before submitting their applications for admission. For these students and their families I will explain the work that remains after your application is accepted.

  • You must deposit quickly. Colleges that admit students Early Decision consider the acceptance “binding.”  The college also expects the admitted student to send a non-refundable enrollment deposit, usually before Christmas Day.
  • Withdraw applications to other schools. Students who have been accepted Early Decision are not expected to remain in the application process at other schools. One exception. Students who applied Early Decision to their first-choice school may have also applied to other schools, mainly state universities, that admit students early in the school year. If, for example, you are a Pennsylvania resident admitted to the University of Pennsylvania and to Penn State’s main campus at University Park and Penn State offered admission before December 1st, you might want to wait until the University of Pennsylvania has notified you about financial aid before you contact Penn State. 
  • Review your financial aid award carefully. More and more colleges are sending merit aid decisions with their acceptance letters. The admissions department, sometimes with the help of faculty, has the say over the students who receive these awards, but the financial aid office has the say on need-based aid.While Early Decision is considered binding, colleges are not obligated to meet your full financial need–but usually the school will come quite close. It considers the students admitted Early Decision to be among their best and/or most serious applicants and wants them to commit. If you are concerned that your Early Decision school came dramatically short of fulfilling your need, notify and meet with the financial aid office as well as the admissions office. You might receive a slightly larger award.
  •  If your financial aid award is not sufficient, you might be released from the Early Decision agreement. Private colleges will release students from these agreements, but do not expect them to “shop” their need-based award against other similar schools. You will not be released from an agreement with a school that practices “need-blind” admissions and offers no merit aid so that you can apply to a similar school and try for more money. But if you, for example, were admitted early to your home state university through their regular admissions process–think back to my UPenn vs. Penn State example–you can be released by the private school to attend the less expensive public school. If you find another school that openly advertises its merit awards on its admissions or financial aid Web site, and  those awards are more generous than the aid that you received from the school that admitted you Early Decision, then you might also be released, if you ask nicely.
  • Maintain excellence. Colleges admit students Early Decision because their admissions officers believe that the student will maintain their high grades and continue to participate in the activities that mean the most to them. These days the senior year is the hardest academically. The college that said  ‘yes’ expects its best students to rise to the challenges, not shuck them after an acceptance is in the house. While it is rare for a college to pull an offer of admission, it does happen. .
  • Connect with others who have been admitted to your freshman class. Students who have been admitted Early Decision have more time to connect online with their future classmates, and possibly find roommates through Facebook pages and other social media.
  • Register in the school’s online portal. Colleges will notify you by e-mail about activities, housing and orientation as well as registration for fall classes. Some schools might arrange conversations with academic advisors online.

College admissions offices like Early Decision because it fills the freshman class faster. Applicants who get accepted like it because they avoid the long wait and headaches of submitting and tracking applications to many schools for several months. But while Early Decision provides great rewards, they are tied to mature responsibilities.


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