As you wind your way through the Common Application, one of the more confusing and important aspects is choosing the right admission plan. Many colleges give you the option of applying more than one way. Of course, all colleges offer regular admission. Many other colleges offer something called Early Action (EA), which is a non-binding, early-notification option. Still other colleges offer one or two rounds of what is called Early Decision (ED-I and ED-II). The big difference with ED is that you are bound by the decision. In other words, by selecting either ED option, you promise to enroll should you be accepted. The only real exception to this binding commitment is a case where the school that accepted you through ED cannot match the financial aid offer given to you by another school. In this case, you are allowed out of the binding obligation in order to attend the school with a better financial package.
Many people are familiar with ED-I. Indeed, it is pretty easy to figure out. If you have a clear favorite college and that college offers ED-I, it makes logical sense to apply this way. Here, the only downside is that you have to get your application in early, usually by November 1. If you are applying using the Common Application, that means you will have to get your entire application, including essays, completed by that date. It also means that you may not have an opportunity to take a standardized test in November or December as you could with regular decision Applications which are typically due in early January. Nonetheless, the upside tends to be far greater than the downside. ED applications are rewarded with a higher percentage of acceptance and, for some colleges, the difference can be significant. Also, getting your decision early can take a lot of stress out of the second half of your senior year of high school. Typically, the results of the ED-I are released in December. Regular admission decisions are usually held back until March or April.
While many people are familiar with the ED-I round, many fewer people are familiar with ED-II or know how to use it to their greatest advantage. Perhaps the biggest advantage of ED-II is that you can wait until you have the results of ED-I to elect it. In other words, you don’t have to commit to your second-choice college unless and until you have been rejected from your first choice. That is because the results of the ED-I round come out in December, but ED-II applications are not due until January. Even if you accept a place on the waiting list of your first-choice college, you can choose ED-II for your second choice, with the caveat that you must give up your place on the waiting list if you are accepted to your ED-II school. In other words, ED-II is binding just like ED-I.
Also, like ED-I, ED-II gives you an earlier notification, usually in February, knocking off potentially a month or more of nerve-racking, nail-biting, heart-palpitating waiting time. However, the biggest advantage to ED-II is the greater likelihood of acceptance. Because ED-II, like ED-I, is a binding admission program, schools are more likely to take these candidates because it improves their yield rate—the rate at which accepted students finally commit to a school. It also provides colleges with a sure thing, which is important when you are trying to fill your classrooms. You see, even many top colleges must do an analysis of their financial stability which, for many, is based on the number of tuition checks they can collect. While this may not be a problem for Harvard or Yale, it can be for a significant number of top 50 colleges. Indeed, the list of colleges that offer ED-II contains high profile and well-known names such as: U Chicago, NYU, Washington University in St. Louis, all five colleges in the Claremont McKenna Consortium, Wellesley College, Colgate, Middlebury, and many more. And for many of these colleges, electing ED-I or ED-II admission options can double or even triple your odds of acceptance.
So, while ED-I and ED-II do have some drawbacks, they are worth considering. This decision should be one part of a larger strategic plan that incorporates all aspects of the college admission process. For many students, choosing both an ED-I and ED-II option could provide a significant advantage in what is becoming an increasingly competitive college admission process.