For many students who will apply to college this Fall, applying Early Decision (ED) seems like a great way to snag a spot at their top school. After all, applying ED to one school and signing a binding contract which ensures you will attend said school if accepted demonstrates a great amount of interest, and ED admission rates are often double or triple the Regular Decision (RD) admit rates. Early Decision seems like the perfect program designed for students to increase their chances at attending their dream school and not have to worry about any other applications or decisions if admitted. In reality, however, Early Decision is just another corrupt institution implemented and used by colleges to boost their statistics and appear elite; giving students an advantage in admissions is merely a byproduct.
Early Decision might sound appealing when it’s championed as a way for students to appear more competitive and secure spots at schools they otherwise wouldn’t get into. It doesn’t have that same appeal when it’s described as a way for colleges to protect their precious yield rates, maintain an artificially low overall admit rate by accepting high percentages of early applicants and virtually no regular decision applicants (see Tulane University), and often save money by supplying early admits, stuck in a contract to attend a given school, very little financial aid. Colleges never market ED as a practice which ultimately benefits themselves more than their students, but this is the reality.
Many colleges, especially elite private schools, like to pride themselves on their yield rates. A high yield rate looks good because that indicates a high number of students who were accepted to a given school chose to attend and saw it as the best option; the school looks more desirable and reputable the higher their yield rates climb. And while yield rates can be raised by schools improving facilities and academics, and appearing all-around more enticing to prospective students, it’s a lot easier to inflate these yield rates by offering ED and thus using a contract to ensure large portions (sometimes up to half) of accepted students will attend their school. Universities are all about the easy clout.
Additionally, colleges strive to have the lowest acceptance rates possible in order to appear exclusive and prestigious. Many schools that employ Early Decision (and Early Action) admit high numbers of applicants from these early pools, yet admit a tiny proportion of their regular decision applicants. For example, many Ivy Leagues and similarly elite private schools have ED admit rates that are often up to three or four times higher than their RD admit rates. However, when looking at their overall acceptance rates, it still appears on the lower, more selective end than their more generous ED admit rate, since more students tend to apply RD to college. One school that seems to utilize this practice to a great extent is Tulane University. Though it’s difficult to identify accurate admit rates for ED and RD at schools (different places have different information and it’s not often updated), the ED admit rate for Tulane is consistently said to be around 32 percent, whereas their RD rate is said to be anywhere from one to six percent.
Recently, more and more schools have elected to accept vastly greater amounts of Early Applicants than Regular Applicants, and it’s not difficult to understand why; ED and EA indicates to colleges this is a likely student to enroll; a safety net of sorts. However, it does seem unfortunate (yet not surprising) that all too many universities are purposely trying to fill more students into their schools from early pools at the expense of students who may be equally qualified or even more so, in their regular pool. It sends the message that “exclusive” and “elite” schools care more about their fragile reputation and the perception of being exclusive rather than actually admitting the most qualified applicants in all cases. In some cases this could be comparable to legacy admits, which, by the way, is a practice that’s long overdue of abandonment.
It’s also important to be wary of financial aid when it comes to ED. Many students find themselves committed to a school that refused to give them sufficient financial aid, even when such a school could easily do so. One of my friends had to get out of their binding agreement (the only way to get out of an ED contract is to prove you cannot afford the cost of attendance) to attend a certain school when the school failed to supply adequate financial aid. Another friend was accepted to her dream school and will be attending in the Fall, but will now have to take out thousands and thousands in separate student loans because her school gave the bare minimum financial aid possible. And this is a well-known and very rich private school which definitely has the means to supply more money. But most elite schools are greedy and end up spending their money on things which don’t directly benefit students (I mean, just look at all those elite schools dripping in wealth that still don’t have AC in their dorms).
I say all this not as someone who thinks all students should only apply Regular Decision. Despite my opinions on the practice of colleges using Early Decision, I think that it can be a great option for students, as long as they are fully confident in their school choice (if accepted, students cannot see any future school acceptances or scholarships) and have the financial means to afford college – schools will not hesitate to short students on financial aid once they have made a binding ED agreement. If this sounds like you, by all means, take advantage of applying early, because elite schools are only getting harder to get into; outstanding stats and extracurriculars are just not enough for most students anymore, schools want to know you are head over heels in love with them and nobody else.
If you feel that ED is right for you, it may likely provide more benefits than costs. However, it’s important not to be naive and assume these schools have only implemented the option of Early Decision for you, because it’s really for themselves; these universities will ultimately reap the most benefits of this practice over time. The college system is severely flawed, and poorly understood by so many students who have applied or will apply to college, but it’s time that we start recognizing actions taken by many colleges (and let’s not even talk about the College Board) for what they are: acts of greed to boost reputations, egos, and their often skewed stats, which may or may not coincidentally benefit students.
(Sources: Forbes, College Transitions)