This story was first published in our Paying for College 101 Facebook community. It’s been edited for clarity and flow.
As parents and students prepare to apply to colleges, it’s easy to get confused by the different deadlines available and what the implications of each mean, especially when it comes to Early Decision results. Recently a parent in our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group asked if anyone whose child applied for Early Decision results had any regrets, and dozens of parents weighed in with their experiences.
Early Action vs. Early Decision Results
The two most common early application deadlines are referred to as Early Decision and Early Action, so it’s important to first distinguish between the two. Early Decision is a binding admissions process with a deadline usually sometime during the fall of senior year. If accepted, students are required to commit.
Early Action, however, is a nonbinding admissions process with a deadline around the same time frame as Early Decision. The difference here is that students are not required to commit if accepted.
Many parents feel that Early Decision results are worth it if key factors are in play. “If a school is hands down the first choice and the Cost of Attendance (COA) is within budget, I recommend it,” says Maya E. “Having an early decision allows your senior to exhale and enjoy that last semester of high school.”
Latha E. feels the same way. “I HIGHLY recommend Early Decision if the Net Price Calculator (NPC) says it is doable. Mine was rejected from his Early Decision school but I’m so glad we did it because now there is no ‘what if…’ As a parent, I know we did what we could. I also think it helped him “move on” past his disappointment quicker.”
Laura A. thinks applying by the Early Decision deadline improved her daughter’s chance of acceptance.
“The COA came in close to the NPC…and the school’s Regular Decision acceptance is only 16 percent — yet it takes 60 percent of its accepted students from Early Decision,” she said. “It was a smart strategic decision on my daughter’s part and comes with the bonus of being done with the whole process before Christmas!”
“I Regret Applying For Early Decision”
Other families are filled with regret after applying to Early Decision deadlines, mainly because the finances were not in their favor in the end.
“The NPC was WAY off and the COA was twice what we expected,” said Juli M. “We appealed and now we’re jumping through all kinds of hoops for a second appeal. There’s been lots of heartache for our daughter as no other school seems to compare even though she has great Early Action options if we end up having to decline the offer due to finances.”
Some families saw the (financial) writing on the wall and declined to apply by the Early Decision deadline as a result. “My son did not do Early Decision because his dad and I were just not confident the final price was something we’d be OK with,” said Zorina M. “Of course, we wish things were different. Some of the colleges he liked did not have Early Action, so he applied for Regular Decision and was kind of bummed. We’ll see what happens.”
Beware of Restricted Early Action
For those who lean towards Early Action because they don’t want to be forced to commit right away, many parents noted that it’s important to check the distinction between Restricted Early Action and Early Action.
The former is non-binding but it prevents you from applying to other schools in the early rounds. Very few schools offer Restricted Early Action, and those that do are mostly Ivy League universities or schools that are historically very hard to get into, such as Stanford University, Boston College, Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of Notre Dame, and Yale University.
“It eliminated the ability to apply Early Action at many schools, which was a bad strategy,” said Carolyn S. “For example, one of the schools that my daughter applied to for Regular Decision filled something like 85 percent of the incoming class through Early Action. I thought we had done a lot of research, but we misunderstood that piece.”
Alison C. had a similar reaction to Restricted Early Action. “I regret encouraging my son to apply for Restricted Early Action. I feel like he missed out on some other opportunities and added more stress.”
Restricted Early Action does, however, demonstrate a strong interest in a college, which for some schools and students, may be the tipping point that gets them accepted.
Whatever choice you make, it’s important to do the necessary research so you’re prepared for whatever outcome.
“Early Decision is good if you take it as a calculated risk,” said Jenny F. “It has to be your student’s first choice. Then, if you are happy with the NPC and your child’s stats make it a viable option, go for it. If not, Early Action at other schools may be a much better strategy. My son did Restricted Early Action at Princeton and was deferred, but he has no regrets because whatever happens in Regular Decision, he won’t have the ‘what if’ feeling.”
Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.
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