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  • Writer's pictureHollis Bischoff

Is Early Decision the right choice for your student?

Republished with permission from the Los Altos Town Crier. Originally appeared in the August 5, 2015 edition. – Article Link


As students apply to an ever-increasing list of schools, colleges are challenged to predict accurately whether a given student will actually attend.

One way to ensure student enrollment is to create a contract between the student and the college – known as Early Decision. Over the years, colleges have filled a greater percentage of their classes with students who are willing to make that leap and commit to a single school if admitted.

Every winter as college admissions officers construct next year’s freshman class, one of their primary concerns is: “If admitted, will this student attend?” Why are they so concerned? Because yield (attending students/admitted students) drives everything from admissions office bonuses to housing and all-important bond credit ratings. Indeed, a drop in yield can lead directly to a downgrade in credit ratings and loss of borrowing power.

Colleges and universities reward students who commit. Early Decision applicants often have a significant admissions advantage and may receive their decisions before the new year, reducing stress and anxiety.

Some colleges are so determined to get that commitment that they have instituted Early Decision 2. Early Decision 2 is usually set for the same deadline as regular decision, and after students have heard from their Early Action (which is nonbinding) and Early Decision submissions. Schools offering Early Decision 2 include Bates, Boston University, Bowdoin, Colby, Occidental, Pomona, Skidmore, Vassar and Willamette, among dozens more. Early Decision 2 has the same binding contract, and students are notified before regular decisions are posted.

While Early Decision and Early Decision 2 offer higher acceptance rates and early notifications, as well as the coveted guaranteed yield for colleges, they are not for everyone and should not be entered into lightly. They require students to be very certain that they would be willing to withdraw all other applications, before finding out if they are admitted and without seeing competing merit and financial-aid packages. This strongly favors applicants from wealthy families who can afford and are willing to pay full tuition and housing, often more than $60,000 annually. Multiple studies have shown that most Early Decision applicants are from wealthy, white families who are using Early Decision as an admissions strategy.

Before students apply Early Decision or Early Decision 2, they should consider the following points.

  • Is this the school for me? Not all students are ready to make a commitment by Nov. 1 of their senior year to a specific school.

  • Have I visited campus? Do not make an Early Decision commitment before you’ve stepped foot on campus.

  • Can I afford the tuition, room and board, books, transportation, Greek Life fees, etc.? If the answer isn’t a confident “yes,” then adding schools that are generous with merit aid and being able to compare offers becomes more important than committing to an Early Decision.

  • Am I a viable candidate? Yes, your chances of being admitted are greater, but only if you are already a viable candidate. If your grades and test scores are not competitive, Early Decision will not likely give you any edge.

Early Decision and Early Decision 2 clearly benefit the college, but used strategically and when appropriate, they can result in an early large envelope for the right student.

Hollis Bischoff is college admissions adviser for CollegeUnlocked. She earned a graduate certificate in college and career counseling from UCLA and is a Certified Educational Planner. She blogs at and tweets at @collegeunlocked. For more information, email

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