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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
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4 Reasons to NOT Apply Early Decision

For those who know with certainty that they want to attend a certain college, applying Early Decision may seem like a perfect opportunity to show your dedicated interest in that school, and compete with fewer applicants for admission. 


On the other hand, there are some drawbacks to applying early, so it’s not the right timeline for everyone. In this post, we’ll outline four reasons you may want to wait to apply.


What is Early Decision?


Before we dive in, let’s define what Early Decision means. Early Decision is the most restrictive and time-sensitive college application process in most schools. Those who apply Early Decision may only apply to one school using this option because if they are accepted, they are required to attend that college. The Early Decision deadlines are usually in early November, a few months earlier than Regular Decision deadlines.


It’s easy to see the benefits of applying Early Decision to a college, especially if you know for sure that this is your first choice. After all, if you get accepted, your college admissions process will be done early, and you can enjoy the vast majority of your senior year while others wait until March for their admissions decisions.


Furthermore, from our vast experience working with thousands of college hopefuls, we at CollegeVine are confident that applying Early Decision generally gives students a 10-12% boost in their chances. This is true even when controlling for profile strength. For more on this, check out Does Applying Early Decision Increase My Chances?


4 Reasons You Shouldn’t Apply Early Decision


Okay, so we know that there are reasons to apply early decision to a college, but what are some reasons NOT to? Every application system has its drawbacks, and we want to make sure you consider all aspects of the Early Decision process before you decide to apply. So without further ado, let’s discuss why you should consider not applying Early Decision. 


1. Your Application Is Not As Good As It Could Be


The great thing about the Regular Decision application deadlines being in December and January (and sometimes even later) is that you have months to craft your college applications, rewrite, edit, and get a second and third set of eyes so that when you finally hit “submit,” you’ve officially put your best foot forward. 


You don’t necessarily have that option with Early Decision applications because the deadline is usually two months earlier than the Regular Decision deadline. You could start your application earlier like in the summer to give yourself more time, at which point you likely won’t have as much access to teachers and other peers who can help with your applications. You may not ever have access to the application itself at that time.


You could also try and craft a great application within a truncated timeline, and indeed this is possible. However, with less time to submit your application, not to mention the stress of the beginning of the school year, you might find yourself feeling rushed and overwhelmed.


2. You Don’t Meet The Academic Standards Of The School


Just because the acceptance rate is higher in the early decision process doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get in. You still need to have an impressive profile of grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, and application essays in order to gain admission to a top tier school. In fact, if you’re aiming for admission to an Ivy League caliber college, you need to understand where you fall on the Academic Index before deciding how to apply.


The Academic Index is a tool used by admissions officers to combine a student’s academic performance into a single numerical score. The Academic Index score takes into account a student’s GPA/class rank, SAT/ACT scores, and SAT Subject Test Scores. The purpose of this index is to expedite the decision-making process often by automatically eliminating students whose AI score does not meet the standards of the university. For more details on the Academic Index and how it can factor into your college applications, see What is the Academic Index? How is it Calculated?


Basically, if your academic profile does not measure up to other applicants and the standards of the university, it won’t matter whether you apply Early Decision or not. Your chances of gaining acceptance to the college will still be slim, and applying with a smaller applicant pool in Early Decision will not increase your chances at all. In fact, your chances may even be worse, as you’ll be compared to the stronger early applicant pool. 


If your grades, course rigor, and test scores are within the average ranges for accepted students, you definitely have a shot. Otherwise, your chances of getting is very unlikely (unless, of course, you’re an under-represented minority or recruited athlete).

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3. You Want To Compare Financial Aid Packages 


The benefit of applying Regular Decision is that you get to choose not only among the schools that admit you, but also among the financial aid packages from each school. If you know that you will be needing financial aid in order to attend college, applying Early Decision comes with some risks if you get in. You may end up paying a higher amount for college, as you won’t be able to compare and negotiate multiple financial aid offers.


Thus, if you want to apply to a college Early Decision, you need to sit down with your family well in advance and accurately determine your expected family contribution and financial need. Most colleges have net price calculators that allow you to do this. After all, you don’t want to run into any unexpected financial aid surprises down the line, if you realize that you can’t afford to attend your Early Decision college. 


Of course, if you and your family truly cannot afford to attend a college with the financial aid package offered, most schools are willing to negotiate and allow you to withdraw from the Early Decision agreement, but this is a messy situation that ought to be avoided. So all in all, if financial aid is in your future, think twice before committing yourself to one college in a binding way. 


4. You’re Not 100% Sure You Want To Attend That School 


Perhaps the scariest thing about submitting an Early Decision application is that if you get in, you don’t have the opportunity to change your mind. That application decision is binding, and you are required to withdraw your applications from other universities if you are accepted to your Early Decision school. So if you apply Early Decision, make 100% sure that the college you’re applying to is the college that you want to attend. Go on college tours, speak to current students and alumni, and do whatever you need to do to ensure that this is where you want to be for the next four years.


Is Early Decision Right For You? 


Based on what we’ve discussed, there are quite a few reasons to be hesitant about applying Early Decision. However, if after reading this post, you still feel that Early Decision applications are right for you, that’s great! We at CollegeVine find that the ED Application process works best for students who: 


  • Have thoroughly researched their college of choice along with other college options
  • Have decided, after extensive research, that their Early Decision college will help them achieve their academic and career goals, as well as meet their geographic and social requirements 
  • Have an academic profile that is at or above the academic profile of accepted students.
  • Have checked the college’s net price calculator and are willing to pay that price if accepted.


While you’re considering whether you want to apply Early Decision, you may also be wondering what your chances are of getting into that college, regardless of how you apply. That’s a difficult question to answer, but we at CollegeVine make it easier with our free chancing engine. We’ll let you know how you stack up against other applicants, and we’ll also give you expert tips on how to improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today!

Sadhvi Mathur
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Sadhvi is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where she double majored in Economics and Media Studies. Having applied to over 8 universities, each with different application platforms and requirements, she is eager to share her knowledge now that her application process is over. Other than writing, Sadhvi's interests include dancing, playing the piano, and trying not to burn her apartment down when she cooks!