Financial Aid and Early Decision

By Julie Gross

Early Decision is an application process which involves a binding contract.  Early decision is not to be confused with early action which is a non-binding application process. The term “binding” means that if the student is accepted through an early decision application, that student must withdraw all other applications and attend that school as per the early decision contract. Students are only allowed to apply to only one school early decision so the student obviously must have a very high level of interest in order to participate in this application process.  Early decision applications are usually due in November and applicants will learn of their decision in December.  What a wonderful thing to have your college choice all wrapped up by the holidays!

Students like to apply early decision because they assume their chances of acceptance are higher with with the ED application process.  However, this is not always the case and your student should check with the school’s admissions office to see what percentage of ED applicants are accepted as opposed to regular applicants.  I have listed below colleges with high acceptance rates for ED applicants.  Schools like New York University or Boston College, on the other hand, offer no such advantage.  Never assume your chances of acceptance are greater by applying ED.  Of course, the one major drawback of applying early decision is that you are forfeiting the right to compare financial aid awards from multiple colleges.  This represents a huge problem for students that are relying on generous financial aid packages.  There are many articles out there discouraging students from applying ED if money is an issue and this makes sense.  There are colleges out there, quite a few, that know ED applicants are only receiving one offer…their offer.  What happens if you go to buy a car and the dealer knows you will not be shopping other dealers to find a better price?  The odds are, that dealer will not extend the best possible offer and you will have no leverage on lowering the cost.  If the college you apply early decision to does not come through with the money you need to attend that school, they will let you out of your binding contract but your offer for admission will be retracted.

On the other hand, there are colleges that will tell you that the bulk of their grants and scholarships will go to the early decision applicants as these are the students that have expressed the highest level of interest.  I will tell you that my clients who applied early decision this year saw very generous packages from Boston University, Syracuse University, Steven Institute of Technology, Vanderbilt University and Skidmore College.  Schools that fell short were Barnard College and George Washington University which is pretty consistent from past years.

The bottom line is that if your student is going to apply early decision, make sure your student is 100% certain that school is for them.  Make sure they have visited the campus and this school offers everything your student wants and more.  You must also be prepared to make a difficult decision of declining an offer of acceptance if that school does not come through with the financial assistance necessary for your student to attend.