April Maguire 4 min read Applying to College, Financial Aid

Should I Apply Early Decision If I Need Financial Aid?

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With competition growing increasingly fierce at selective colleges, many students are looking for ways to increase their chances of acceptance. Applying early decision or early action is a popular option to do just that. According to the U.S. News & World Report, the early decision acceptance rate at the nation’s top 20 liberal arts schools was 38.8% in 2016, compared with just 18.8% for regular decision applicants. So, applying ED can be an effective way to boost your odds of getting into your top-choice school.

 

While it’s natural for students to look for any leg up they can find, applying early decision does come with certain drawbacks. In particular, students who require financial aid may be at a disadvantage. Keep reading to learn whether applying to school early decision is the right choice for you and your family.

What Is Early Decision?

 

Available at certain schools, early decision is an admissions option that enables aspiring students to submit their application materials in early November and receive a response by mid-December. Unlike with regular admissions, students who apply early decision (ED) are required to enroll at the institution in question and must withdraw any other applications upon acceptance. Students may also only apply ED to a single school. 

 

It’s worth noting that regular and early decision aren’t the only options for applying to college. Some schools also permit early action (EA) and single choice early action applicants (SCEA). With early action, students apply and receive a decision on a similar timeline to that of ED; the decision isn’t binding, however, and students can apply to multiple schools EA. SCEA is also non-binding like EA, but it limits students to one early application to private schools. SCEA applicants may apply to public schools EA, and may also submit as many regular decision (RD) applications as they want.

 

Although early decision admissions are binding, applying ED does come with benefitsnamely, a boost to one’s chances of acceptance. It was previously thought that the higher early acceptance rates were due to the stronger profiles of the early applicants. When controlling for profile strength, however, we found that ED applicants still had a 10-12% better chance of acceptance than for RD applicants. For SCEA, the admissions benefits are around 6-8%, and for normal Early Action, the admissions benefits are about 4-6%. This boost might seem small, but every little bit helps, especially at schools with extremely low acceptance rates.

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Is Early Decision a Good Idea for Students With Financial Need?

 

While it’s true that applying ED can boost your odds of being accepted to top institutions, this type of admissions decision can affect your chances of securing aid. Because students who are accepted ED must withdraw their other applications, families don’t have the chance to compare aid packages from different schools. As a result, they may wind up paying more for college than they would have had they applied regular decision. The same offers are given from the same school regardless of whether a student applies early or RD, but the student could’ve received a better offer from another school had they been able to apply to other colleges. 

 

Families could also receive an aid package that doesn’t meet their needs if their student applies ED. If this is the case, most schools are willing to negotiate, and will allow families to withdraw from the agreement if the aid truly isn’t sufficient. Families who are concerned about their ability to pay should be sure to apply for financial aid, and include an accurate amount they can afford on their CSS Profile. Students who try to claim hardship without having applied for aid may not be viewed as having a credible reason for withdrawing from an ED agreement. It’s worth noting that situational changes, such as a parent losing employment, are generally seen as acceptable reasons for withdrawal; the school would also be highly likely grant the student more aid. 

 

To avoid any unpleasant financial aid surprises if you’re accepted ED, we recommend determining your expected family contribution in advance. Most college websites feature a net price calculator enabling families to estimate their personal financial aid packages. If the calculator shows that you can afford to attend the school in question, and you’re certain you want to go there, there’s typically no harm in applying ED. Your actual aid award may vary slightly, but each school’s net price calculator is generally very accurate. 

 

There are two more things we recommend: 

 

  1. Prepare some RD applications in advance, in case your financial aid package is insufficient at your ED school and you need to withdraw from the agreement. This will save you massive stress from applying last-minute. 

 

  1. Do not apply Early Decision II (ED II). With ED I, students who wind up withdrawing typically have time in December to apply to other schools RD. On the other hand, ED II applicants don’t receive admissions decisions until February or March. As a result, they may only be able to apply to a limited number of schools offering rolling admissions. This is not ideal at all, as most schools with rolling admissions are state schools, which tend to be costly for out-of-state students, and also don’t offer much financial aid.

 

From identifying target colleges to filling out applications and financial aid documents, the process of applying to colleges is often complex. At CollegeVine, we created an easy-to-use platform to help students track admissions milestones and ensure nothing slips through the cracks. Whether you need help improving your essays or maximizing aid offers, trust our team to be in your corner. Learn more here.

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April Maguire
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.