If you are a high school senior or the parent of one and you’re at least a year into the college search, you have probably researched your options among several schools. Maybe you surfed the Web or ran through some college guides (hopefully our profiles, too) and visited a few campuses when you had the time. If all of the research points you to one school, apply Early Decision to that school upon these conditions:
- Your student is confident that you can make a solid case to get into the school. The application cannot be half-hearted. S/he must be honest and humble; obnoxious behavior in print presumes obnoxious behavior in person.
- The school offers at least two, hopefully three, possible degree programs that your student might want to pursue. Make sure the academics are there and that it is not too difficult for your student to change their mind if their original interests don’t work out. More than half of the students who enter college change their major at least once. But some schools may ask their students to back-track to make up courses that they did not take in their freshman or sophomore year.
- You know through your research that your student can afford the school or ranks in the upper quarter of the applicant pool where you’re confident that you will qualify for merit-based aid. Colleges award scholarships to the most qualified students who show the earliest interest.
- You might have an outside source of funds. Your student might qualify for a Federal Pell Grant, a state scholarship, an athletic scholarship or a free ride through ROTC. Some states such as Florida, Georgia and Louisiana have merit scholarship programs. If your student loves the school and has some way to pay, why spend the time and expense to fill out more college applications?
- Your “first choice” school attracts a significant share (over 25 percent) of its freshman class through Early Decision. Such schools admit a higher percentage of applicants through Early Decision than through Early Action or Regular Admission. They want not only the best-qualified students to choose their school; they also want those who desire most to be there.
- Your student is being highly recruited for special talents in the arts or athletics.
Early Decision is a binding commitment on the part of the applicant as well as their high school guidance counselor. Not only must students agree to withdraw all other applications, if admitted, they can apply to only one school under Early Decision. A counselor can assist on only one Early Decision application for a student. Any more and the counselor is in violation of professional ethics standards.