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Is Early Decision Right for You?

For many students, the most fraught part of the admissions process is not writing essays or asking for letters of recommendation, but choosing an Early Decision school. Applying Early Decision allows students to submit an application to a single school during the fall and receive that school’s admissions decision shortly afterwards (usually in December). The catch: Early Decision is binding. If students are admitted to their ED school, they must attend.

For many students, this is a stressful premise. How can you identify the one school that is the best fit for you? Should you commit to a single school at the outset of your senior year, or should you wait to see the results of all of your applications? If you do decide to apply Early Decision, should you apply to a major reach school or aim for one more easily in range?

We know this is a major decision for many of our students, so we’ve provided some general guidelines below to help you make this choice. We recommend that you apply Early Decision if:

You have a clear top-choice school: If your favorite school offers Early Decision, it makes sense to apply in that round. After all, you’d be more than happy to commit to attending that school! As a bonus, if you are admitted in the Early Decision round, you’ll be done with the college admissions process before the end of winter break. No regular round stress for you.

You want to boost your odds of admission: As we’ve discussed before, applying to a school Early Decision can double your odds of admission in some cases. The Early Decision applicant pool is usually much smaller than the applicant pool in the regular round, which allows admissions officers to spend more time reviewing each application. What’s more, schools that offer Early Decision generally fill about half of the incoming class in the early round. As a result, your odds of admission are always higher in Early Decision than they would be in the regular round. Last year, for example, Columbia had an early admit rate of 14.57% and a Regular Decision admit rate of 4.04%. (For more on the early admit rates for some of the very top schools, take a look at the data we’ve collected here.)

The one caveat: your odds will only improve in the Early Decision round if that school is in range for you. While the Early Decision applicant pool may be smaller overall, it will still include lots of very qualified candidates. If your grades and test scores are well below average for a school, your application won’t make it through the admissions review process, even in the early round. 

You are a legacy: There’s no denying that being a legacy gives you an advantage at almost every school. (For more details on how this works, check out our recent blog post on legacy hooks.) In many cases, however, legacy status carries far more weight during the early round. Some schools, like Cornell, are very up-front about the importance of applying Early Decision for legacy applicants. Other schools may not say this outright, but they generally follow similar practices. This means that — if you are a legacy applicant at a school you love — applying Early Decision to that school will allow you to get the most out of your legacy status.

We hope this helps you to figure out if Early Decision is the right choice for you! If it is, take a look at the deadlines for some top Early Decision schools:


Amherst College – Nov. 1, 2019

Babson College – Nov. 1, 2019

Barnard College – Nov. 1, 2019

Bates College – Nov. 15, 2019

Bentley University – Nov. 15, 2019

Boston College – Nov. 1, 2019

Boston University – Nov. 1, 2019

Bowdoin College – Nov. 15, 2019

Brown University – Nov. 1, 2019

Bryn Mawr College – Nov. 15, 2019

Bucknell University – Nov. 15, 2019

Carnegie Mellon University – Nov. 1, 2019

Claremont McKenna College – Nov. 1, 2019

Colby College – Nov. 15, 2019

Colgate University – Nov. 15, 2019

Columbia University – Nov. 1, 2019

Connecticut College – Nov. 15, 2019

Cornell University – Nov. 1, 2019

Dartmouth University – Nov. 1, 2019

Dickinson College – Nov. 15, 2019

Duke University – Nov. 1, 2019

Emory University – Nov. 1, 2019

Harvey Mudd College – Nov. 15, 2019

Haverford College – Nov. 15, 2019

Johns Hopkins University – Nov. 1, 2019

Middlebury University – Nov. 1, 2019

New York University – Nov. 1, 2019

Northwestern University – Nov. 1, 2019

Pomona College – Nov. 1, 2019

Rice University – Nov. 1, 2019

Swarthmore College – Nov. 15, 2019

Tufts University – Nov. 1, 2019

Tulane University – Nov. 1, 2019

University of Chicago – Nov. 1, 2019

University of Pennsylvania – Nov. 1, 2019

University of Virginia – Oct. 15, 2019

Vanderbilt University – Nov. 1, 2019

Villanova University – Nov. 1, 2019

Washington University in St. Louis – Nov. 1, 2019

Williams College – Nov. 15, 2019

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