ALERT: Early Decision & Early Action

It's coming up on college admission time. So you need to start thinking about having your students fill out their admission applications. This is a great time to revisit the pitfalls of the "early decision" and "early action" processes.

Early decision and early action are two very misunderstood policies used by colleges to boost their enrollments as early as possible.


These policies make good business sense for the colleges, but do they make sense for you? Unequivocally, NO... and maybe.


Early decision is a legally binding agreement between a college and the student. The student can apply to as many colleges as he or she desires, but they can only apply to one college under the early decision criteria. Students apply under early decision hoping to have an admission decision from the college of their choice as early as possible. If the student is not admitted to the college under the early decision criteria, that students application most often is not reconsidered during the regular admission process. However, if the student is admitted to the college under the early decision criteria, then you have got a really big problem.


Any student that is admitted to a college under the early decision rules, must go to that college no matter what kind of offer they receive from any other college. In fact, most colleges utilizing early decision require students to immediately withdrawal their applications to all other colleges if they are admitted. This is well before you have seen any kind of financial package from any school. Under early decision, you are required to commit to one and only one college before you have any idea what it will cost you to go to school there. Used car salesmen can only dream of a sales tactic that is so underhanded.


Never under any circumstances agree to early decision. If you do, you will lose all hope of negotiating; and you will lose any flexibility of accepting a better offer from another college, even if it was thousands of dollars more.


Early action is a horse of a different color. Early action operates on essentially the same timetable as early decision, but it does not have the negative effects. There is no legally binding agreement between the student and school under early action criteria. However, you need to review the individual school's early action criteria because some schools may withdrawal their offers for admission if action is not taken. Early action notifies students early in the admissions process whether they have been accepted or not. If they are not accepted under early action, sometimes their applications are moved to the normal admissions process.


In many cases, early action does not have negative impacts, but you should always read the fine print.


The bottom line is never put yourself in a position that you have to make a decision to attend a college before you know what it will cost. Otherwise, you are truly buying the proverbial “pig in a poke”. Always wait for the financial award offers before committing to any college.