From a #SSS: To ED or not to ED?

Liana Pickrell and Maddy Jones

It’s a transitioning time of the year. Seniors are winding down their college process as the May 1 deadline approaches, which leaves it to juniors to start their own college search.

As two seniors who’ve both completed applying to colleges, we thought that we might pass along some advice to those looking ahead.

There are multiple different ways to apply to college. We will be focusing on Early Decision (ED), but students also apply using other paths like Regular Decision (RD) or Early Action (EA). ED is a big decision to make since it is a binding contract that typically requires a signed agreement that if the college or university accepts, you will attend.

Pros: Written by Liana who applied ED.

The pros are written by Liana who chose to apply Early Decision. Photo by Maddy Jones.

1. Higher acceptance rates

Many selective schools have much higher acceptance rates during the ED round. According to a New York Times article, in 2013, many schools like Brown and Johns Hopkins had around double the acceptance rates in their early rounds. Brown accepted 18.54 percent of early applicants while only accepting 8.07 percent of regular applicants. Likewise, Johns Hopkins accepted 36.68 percent during the early round and 15.28 percent during the regular round. Duke’s acceptance rate was almost three times as high during its ED round, and Amherst took 39 percent of its early applicants but only 11.5 percent of its regular applicants. The higher acceptance rates are one of the most attractive qualities of early decision, and was a main factor in my choice to apply early.

Note: Part of the reason that the ED acceptance rate is higher is that recruited athletes are included in the ED round.

2. Done early

Results from Early Decision are typically released in mid-December, and if you are accepted to your dream school, prepare for the best winter break of your high school years. With no homework or applications, you can thoroughly enjoy a well-deserved break. Even if you aren’t accepted Early Decision, you will have your Common App done and potentially some supplements you can recycle for other applications, meaning less work over break. Although I personally didn’t have all my other applications written, I’ve heard of some Early Decision applicants finishing all their applications by the early deadline, so it is possible to have no work over break no matter what your Early Decision result is. Early Decision forces you to start the process earlier, and I personally started writing my Common App in June. This made me less stressed because I was not rushed and had time to edit and change my mind about essay topics.

3. More time for transition to college

College is a big transition, and committing to a college earlier on gives you more time to prepare for the college you will be attending. You will have more time to research special programs, majors and activities so you enter college well-informed. Early Decision also gives you an advantage in the dorm search and roommate search over regular applicants because you can start dorm research earlier and start connecting with other admitted students via Facebook. I have already gotten together with other students from the Bay Area who were also accepted, and I’m also planning to visit in the spring to get a better feel for the campus. Early Decision allows me to focus in the spring on the college I’m attending rather than worrying about figuring out where I will attend.

4. Decision sooner

If you are impatient, the turn-around time of the decision is a major incentive to apply early. The six-week wait from Nov. 1 to Dec. 5 was long enough. I can’t even imagine waiting from early January to the end of March or early April. Even if I had been rejected, I would have liked to know so that I could move on with other applications. If you are not accepted, early decision gives you time to do more research and find another college you would like equally.

5. Demonstrated interest

Everyone who applies Early Decision has the advantage of demonstrated interest. Colleges really like that you are committing to them by applying Early Decision. By applying early, you tell the colleges,”There’s no other school I’d rather be at than yours,” which means a lot. Colleges like admitting students who are excited to attend their schools and are not applying just because they didn’t get accepted somewhere else. Many schools, including the one I applied to, have been taking an increasing percent of their classes Early Decision, making Regular Decision increasingly competitive.

CONS: Written by Maddy, who didn’t apply ED.

The cons are written by Maddy who decided not to apply Early Decision. Photo by Liana Pickrell.

1. People change

Have you ever looked back through old photos or statuses and cringed at what you looked like or said? People change a lot, especially in high school. We’re all growing up and figuring out who we want to be and what we like. Choosing a college is one of the first major life decisions that people make. What you may like now may not be what you’ll like at the end of the year when you’re heading off to college. I have personally changed my mind multiple times throughout my senior year about aspects such as whether I want a small college versus a large college or go to a college near a city versus in a rural area. Be prepared for change.

2. Not just one great fit

There will be many colleges that will be a great fit. I’ve found that even my top colleges often have a couple of points that aren’t ideal in terms of what I’m looking for, but overall I like that college. Colleges, like us, aren’t perfect. Setting your heart on just one of those colleges could be detrimental if you don’t get in, but be assured that there is no one perfect school. There will be a multitude of colleges and universities where you will be able to flourish and explore. This is one of the reasons that for many, like myself, Early Action is a better path because you don’t have to set your mind on a college, but you still get the comfort of hearing back sooner.

3. Buyer’s remorse

Let’s imagine that you get in to the school to which you apply ED. You’re thrilled, and rightly so. But then April comes around, and your friends and classmates are getting back all their decisions and weighing their options. These conversations may get to you, and you may find yourself with buyer’s remorse. As you change over the year, you may start to pick apart your college and have doubts that it’s not the perfect place for you. You’ll second guess your choice in the absence of options. Personally, I am an indecisive person, and I know that the time in April spent weighing options is going to be important to my college process.

4. No senior grades

One of the most important aspects of your application that any college counselor or admissions officer will tell you about is your transcript. Colleges want to see that you’ve challenged yourself and that you did well. If you didn’t do well earlier in high school, it may be advantageous to wait to apply Regular Decision so that you can show an upward trend with your first semester senior year grades. Personally, I had a better transcript in my first semester senior year, so it worked out in my favor to wait.

5. Less time to write essays

With an earlier application due date for Early Decision, there will be more of a crunch to get all of your essays done. Essays are just one component of your application, but they provide a chance for you to talk personally and directly to the admissions directors about the school that you’re applying to. It’s the one aspect of your application process that you have the most control over, so you’ll want to make them the best they can be. Many colleges have complex prompts, which from experience I can tell you take longer than you may anticipate. Colleges are looking for thoughtful and well-edited essays, so it may pay off to spend the extra time over winter break on these supplements.

Photo by George Lu.
Maddy and Liana contemplate ED. Photo by George Lu.


Overall, Early Decision is a personal decision that is right for some and not for others. If you feel confident you’ve found your dream school and that it offers an option to apply Early Decision, then it may be right for you to apply ED. However, if you’re on the fence about your school, then it may make sense to weigh the pros from someone who ended up applying ED and the cons from someone who didn’t.