early decision

The Difference Between Early Action, Early Decision and Instant Decision

My daughter Sydney starts college next week and after spending two years helping her get to this point I thought I knew everything about the admissions process, but I don’t. Last week something I had never heard of came to my attention: Instant Decision.

The CollegeBoard doesn’t talk about Instant Decision on it’s website but grownandflown.com writes, “Instant Decision Day (or, as some call it ID Day) is a chance for high school students to reduce the entire admissions process (including, in some cases, financial or merit aid) to one day.” Not all colleges and universities offer this option so look on their individual websites to find out. Bard College does and calls it Immediate Decision.

Bard’s Immediate Decision Plan (IDP) requires an online reservation for a November in-person interview and a completed Common Application. The student is also required to read several assigned texts and participate in a seminar on interview day. That evening faculty discuss the interviews and a decision will be sent out the following business day. So if your student’s Bard interview is November 3, they will know if they are excepted as early as November 5. Now that is instant!

Other options for sooner decisions include Early Action(EA) and Early Decision(ED). According to the CollegeBoard, “early decision plans are binding — a student who is accepted as an ED applicant must attend the college. Early action plans are non-binding — students receive an early response to their application but do not have to commit to the college until the normal reply date of May 1.”

Binding means that with an early decision, you agree to go to that school school no matter what the financial aid package , if any, has been offered. Non-binding means you agree to go to that school only if the financial aid package works for your family.

Before deciding on early decisions,  make sure the school is the right one for your student and your family before committing. We might have chosen Immediate Decision if Bard was the right school for Sydney.

Here is a breakdown of all the decision options:

Regular Decision
Apply to as many schools as you like
Application due January/February
Acceptance in March
Commitment by May 1
Non-binding
Early Decision I
Allows you to only apply to one school Early Decision
Application due early December
Acceptance in January
Commitment several weeks later
Withdraw offers from other schools
Binding
Early Decision II
Allows you to only apply to one school Early Decision
Application due in January
Acceptance in February
Commitment several weeks later
Withdraw offers from other schools
Binding
Early Action I
Apply to as many schools as students like
Application due December
Rolling acceptance
Commitment by May 1
Non-binding
Instant Decision /Early Action II
Decision based on interview in November
Decision made within 48 hours
Commitment date set by college
Binding/non-binding determined by college

Should Students Share What Schools They Are Applying To? 

“Don’t tell what schools you are applying to,” seems to be the word on the street. Instead, when asked the question, “What schools are you applying to?” students might answer, “A lot of schools.” This theory applies if the student doesn’t know the person asking very well. But the students you know well might tell you. I’ve noticed the teens sometimes sound sheepish when announcing their reach schools and apologetic for their safety schools. Generally they don’t want to disclose the schools they are applying to, so if they aren’t accepted, they won’t have to tell anyone.

My daughter chose to only tell her closest friends that she applied Early Decision. But then two other kids in her class announced they were applying ED to the same school. She decided it was best to tell them her plans too. At first they saw each other as competitors but as time to apply grew closer, they relied on each other for support and were the first ones they called when the results came in.

Sydney says it’s a case by case situation. Sometimes it’s helpful to know who is applying where. You might learn about a really cool school that you only heard of when a classmate applies. All the seniors are going through the same thing at the same time, so it’s almost impossible to keep the information to yourself. They tend to share with each other, but when they tell others outside of school, they might hold back.

Sydney’s school has a college banner making station. When a student gets accepted to a school, they make a banner for that school and it’s hung in the college admissions office. Even if they won’t end up going, they still make the banner. By April, the banners will be complete and the younger classes will parade past them with eyes on these schools that their peers will attend.

It’s intense now but it will all be over soon. A year from now these current seniors might be sitting on alumni panels at their high school talking about college to the next set of seniors. Some might even represent their college during a college education night. It’s been a long year of ups and downs. It feels like when they were toddlers and the mood and activity changed every twenty minutes. There are never any right answers. Stay flexible and listen to your child. Take your cues from them. If they don’t want you to tell the neighbors where they are applying, respect that. It’s their journey and we are their support team.

A Guide to Early Decision

It’s mid-December, which means that while some students are finishing up their college applications for regular decision, others have already received their early decision results. For the fortunate, the news is the best holiday gift ever. For the less than fortunate, it’s a big lump of coal.

If you rolled the dice on early decision, the results will leave you with many questions. Or you may be a high school junior wondering if you should apply early decision next year. In this article, we’ll examine the early decision basics before diving into what you should do if you were accepted, rejected, or deferred.

Early Decision: The Basics

What’s the deal with early decision? It’s no big mystery. Colleges, especially ultra-selective ones, want to cultivate a stellar crop of freshman students. Early decision is a tool for them to get a head start on filling seats for the next year. After selecting part of the student body in November/December, they can fine-tune the remainder of the freshman class between January and March.

For a college-bound student like you, early decision has two benefits. First and foremost, applying early decision signifies to a college that it’s your first choice. If given a chance, you’d forego all other offers to attend that school. The second benefit comes if the school to which you apply early decision accepts you. With an acceptance in hand, you don’t have to worry about other college applications and the subsequent camping by the mailbox in April.

Finally, there is the issue of colleges having higher acceptance rates during early decision vs. regular decision. You may think that getting into your dream college is easier if you apply early decision. Not so. In fact, getting into your dream college may be more difficult applying early decision rather than regular decision.

I Was Accepted! Now What?

Congratulations for getting into your dream college! After coming down from Cloud Nine (and by all means, take as long as you want up there), it’s time to let the school know you’re on your way. Your acceptance packet should include information on how to do this.

So I can relax now, right?

Sort of. Yes, you don’t have to put one more ounce of effort into applying to college. That should come as a big relief! However, you still need to keep your grades up; they may play a role in pending scholarship decisions.

One more thing: don’t get into any trouble (legal or otherwise) between now and graduation. Your college has many people with whom it can replace you. That may sound a bit harsh, but it happens more often than you’d think.

So keep out of trouble and maintain those grades!

What if I change my mind?

Hopefully, by applying early decision, you made a sound choice as to where you want to attend college. For some students, though, after the joy of acceptance wears off, the doubts come flooding in. This isn’t uncommon. Many students have cold feet about committing to a particular school. Also, maybe in the time since applying, you realized that another college better matches your interests and career plans. Finally, your acceptance may come with little to no financial aid, putting your dream school out of reach.

First off, applying early decision isn’t a legally binding contract. You can turn down an acceptance and not suffer any negative life-changing consequences. However, before making any big decisions, please ask the advice of an adult you trust.

I Was Rejected! Now What?

I know from personal experience that being rejected early decision can be THE WORST! Not only is it a bummer, but rejection can also put a cloud over you as you try to juggle midterms, your regular decision applications, and the holiday season. To get you out of this funk, it’s important to keep two things in mind:

  • Other Colleges Won’t Know or Care. It’s easy to think that because you didn’t get into College A, Colleges B-E will reject you, too. That’s a fallacy. Different colleges have different admissions counselors, different expectations, and different cultures. Your perfect fit is still out there somewhere.
  • Focus on Your Regular Decision Applications. I don’t recommend mulling over why a college rejected you (you’ll never know), but it pays to consider if something was lacking in your early decision application. For example, did you edit your essays or have someone else read them? If you think your application was lacking, make sure to correct any mistakes before sending in your regular decision applications.

In other words, focus on what’s in front of you rather than on what’s behind you.

I Was Deferred! Now What?

For less than 5% of applicants, the answer isn’t a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ A deferral means that your dream college has postponed its decision, and will look at your application again from January to March. Depending on the school, you may need to submit additional materials such as an updated transcript. In possession of a complete student profile, admission counselors can make a more informed decision than before.

If this happens to you, don’t fret. You get another chance, a rarity in the college application game. Just like if you were rejected, polish those regular decision applications and settle in for a long wait.

Final Thoughts

As American lyricist Marshall Bruce Mathers III once said, “Look, if you had, one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted…would you capture it, or just let it slip?” I don’t think Mr. Mathers was singing about early decision, but it applies to your situation, nonetheless. Out of all your potential colleges, you can apply early decision to only one. Take time to consider which school (if any) has earned your early decision application.

And good luck. 🙂

Early Decision Results Are In. What Happens Next?

Last week was a big one. Early Decision and Early Action results were mailed. Sydney applied Early Decision to her reach school and unfortunately was not accepted. Of course, she was disappointed. But she has so many other colleges she’s excited about and now she’s free to apply to them.

The rest of the week was filled with Sydney’s friends being accepted to and rejected from Early Action schools. Sydney didn’t apply to any of those as she was focusing on her ED application. The benefit of Early Action is that you hear about your acceptance earlier. And they are non-binding. The Early Decision applications are binding.

So what’s next? Sydney can still apply to one school Early Decision II with a deadline of January 1 and hear back on February 15. But there are so many other wonderful schools out there, she is hoping that by applying regular decision to all her picks, she might have a choice of schools. It’s really hard for her to narrow down a specific school right now. Once again we’d be faced with the Early Decision offering a high acceptance but if accepted, a binding contract and having to withdraw all the other applications.

Not all schools offer Early Action, but from my current point of view, that’s the way to go. It’s the best of all worlds, you hear early, it’s non-binding and you have the freedom to wait for the other offers. I think with Jasper, who is in tenth grade now, we will encourage Early Action.

Sometimes you take a risk. And sometimes it doesn’t turn out. And sometimes it turns out for the better in unexpected ways. And that’s not just an expression because within just a few days we’ve already had discussions about other options which are maybe even more intriguing.

The Early Decision Decision

My daughter Sydney decided to apply Early Decision to her top college. It turned into more of a family decision and a family effort to get out the early application. The deadline being November first.

About four o’clock on Sunday, my tenth-grade son who had burrowed himself in his room all weekend carefully tiptoed between his angst-ridden sister and frustrated father as they proofread her essay for a final time.

“Should I get my hopes up about tonight?” he whispered to me. We had promised a family dinner at his favorite restaurant once his sister submitted, partly to celebrate her submission and partly to thank him for his patience at being ignored during this college frenzy. We’d thought the application would have been done by Saturday morning but Sydney still wanted one more pass at the written supplements, needed to format the essay for the Common App, write Additional Comments, and create a resume for her Slideroom. She had prepped most everything but there were so many more details. Her dad and I took turns reading over things but between the application, play rehearsal and her full load of twelfth-grade homework, she was exhausted. We all were.

Sydney

I can’t help feeling that some of the household stress was based on the realization that if she gets into this college, it’s binding. She will be going. No turning back. How do you make that choice so early in your senior year? Why make that choice? Well, because the odds are much better to get in with Early Decision. In her case, 48% of applicants are admitted during Early Decision, whereas 15% are admitted during regular decision. It seemed like the best bet.

“If you got into all the colleges you loved and money was no object, would this still be your first pick?” I asked. “I can always change my mind, right?” she laughed, “Let’s do this.” So I retrieved my credit card, we paid the fee and she signed her final signature. It was seven-thirty and we were really hungry. We gathered around as she hit the submit button. And it was decided.

The evening ended in celebration at our favorite Mexican restaurant. The staff who have known Sydney since she was a baby brought over a dessert with a candle. We celebrated her hard work, dedication, and perseverance. Wherever she winds up will be the right place. This weekend’s Early Decision was the only first step. There will be many more decisions and celebrations to follow.

Gardening With the Net Price Calculator

With our FAFSA report and CSS profile complete, I started to dig into the Net Price Calculator. Each college and university is required by law to have a Net Price Calculator on their website. About 200 are sponsored by the College Board. The College Board saves your information and makes it easy to estimate your “Calculated Family Contribution.” The other colleges require you to put in basic income and family information.

Once I unearthed our Calculated Family Contribution for our top ten schools, I looked up, bug-eyed, from the computer.

“Give me the rose and the thorn,” my daughter said, using an expression from her counseling class at school.

“Okay, your top school wants to give you a really decent amount of aid. Your second choice, zero aid. Ouch. And your third choice something in between.” The rose, the thorn, and the stem.

But now I wanted to dig deeper. I started checking out lots of schools. Schools we’d never even considered. At the end of the day I think I had looked at about 40 schools, spent over six hours and too much caffeine. It was addicting.

“That’s nothing,” a dad of one of my daughter’s friends told me the next morning. “I ran the numbers for eighty-five schools and I’m still searching.”

The majority of colleges were around the same amount, but there were extremes. I called the top three choice schools asking how accurate those calculations were. The first school told me if my amounts entered were accurate then their calculation would be accurate. The second school, offering us no aid, suggested my daughter might be eligible for merit scholarships, which are not a part of the Net Price Calculations. And the third school said their final package could vary from their calculations based on other factors. I asked if they could tell me what other factors those might be. They said no.

My daughter is planning on applying Early Decision to her top school. This is very tricky since it’s a binding contract financially and I will have to gamble that those estimates are correct. I wonder if it’s better to hold off and have her apply regular decision so that we can weigh the options? Or have her apply Early Decision to her third choice which indicated the best financial aid package, but with unknown factors attached?

We have a week to make up our minds. The Early Decision deadline is November 1. It’s a gamble, that’s for sure. So with a week to go, maybe I’ll rustle around in those rose bushes some more.

Back to Top