Early Decision Vs Regular Decision: Making The Right College Choice

Early decision applications allow students to apply early in their senior year with the promise of an admission decision before Regular Decision deadlines. It is binding, which means that if accepted, you must enroll.

Regular decision is the standard application process in which you apply by the regular deadline. You will receive your decision in the spring. Choosing between these options can have a significant impact on your college journey where you’ll spend your next four years.

This article will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of both early decision and regular decisions. We will also discuss who should apply for each and the factors influencing your decision. By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of which application path aligns with your college aspirations.

Early Decision Vs Regular Decision

What is Early Decision (ED)?

As mentioned, early decision is an option that allows students to apply to a specific institution early in their senior year. Early decision applicants must submit their materials by November 1st or 15th, depending on the college.

This early timeline means you’ll need to be well-prepared in your senior year. Once you have applied, you will receive an admission decision in mid-December. Other features of ED include:

1. Binding Commitment:

Perhaps the most important aspect of an early decision is that it is binding. When you apply through an early decision, you are making a commitment to enroll at that specific institution if you get the chance. This commitment is a legal agreement and should not be taken lightly.

2. Quick Admission Decision:

Early decision applicants typically receive their admission decisions in December, a few weeks before their Regular Decision counterparts.

3. Single Choice:

It’s important to note that you can only apply to one college or university through early decision. This means you must carefully select your top ED school.

If you’re unsure about your preferences or want to keep your options open, early decision may not be the best option.

Read: Most Important Questions to Ask When Transferring Colleges

Who Should Apply For Early Decision?

Determining whether you should apply for an early decision requires a thorough examination of your academic and personal circumstances. Here is who should apply through early decision in detail:

1. You Have a Clear Top-Choice School

Early decision is an ideal choice if you have one specific college or university that stands out above all the others. This should be a school in which you can see yourself flourishing. Applying for ED demonstrates your unwavering dedication to that institution.

2. Competitive Academic Credentials

Early decision pools are frequently smaller and more competitive than regular decision pools. If your academic profile, including GPA and standardized test scores, is exceptionally strong, ED may be advantageous.

To assess your competitiveness, review the institution’s published admission statistics.

3. You’re Certain About Your Choice

An early decision constitutes a legally binding commitment. You must enroll if accepted. As a result, you should only apply through ED if you are certain about your decision.

Take the time to thoroughly research the school, and if possible, visit it to ensure it aligns with your academic and personal goals.

4. Financial Preparedness

Before applying, learn about the college’s financial aid policies, estimate your potential financial aid package, and discuss your options with your family.

You can also employ the help of the school’s net price calculator and financial aid officers.

Advantages of Early Decision

Here are some of the advantages students get from choosing an early decision application.

1. Increased Acceptance Rates

One of the most significant advantages of applying through early decision is the higher acceptance rates compared to regular decision. Colleges and universities frequently admit a higher percentage of their ED applicants.

This is because they view ED applicants as highly committed to attending their institution. Therefore, they want to fill a portion of their incoming class with these dedicated students.

2. Early Notification

Early-decision applicants typically receive admission decisions in December. This early notification can be a game changer in reducing the stress and uncertainty that often accompany the college application process.

3. Competitive Advantage

The smaller applicant pool in the early decision round can give you a competitive advantage. This is because you’re competing against a smaller pool of applicants, so your application may stand out more prominently.

If your academic credentials and overall profile align well with the school’s admission standards, your chances of acceptance can significantly increase.

4. Potential Scholarship Consideration

In some cases, colleges may consider ED applicants for merit-based scholarships or other financial incentives. Although this varies by institution, it’s worth investigating whether your top-choice school provides such opportunities to ED applicants.

5. More Time to Prepare

By applying early decision, you gain more time to prepare for your college transition. Because you will receive your admission decision in December, you will have several months to plan and organize.

This extra time can be invaluable for arranging housing, obtaining financial aid, and mentally preparing for the transition to college life. It allows for a more relaxed and less hurried start to your college experience.

6. Time to Apply Elsewhere if Not Accepted

Applying for an early decision does not preclude you from applying to other colleges via regular decision. If you are not accepted into the ED program, you can still apply to other colleges before their regular deadlines.

Check Also: How to Decline Admission to a College

Disadvantages Of Early Decision

Let’s explore these drawbacks in greater detail to help you make an informed decision:

Binding commitment:

When you apply through ED and are admitted, you are legally obligated to enroll at that specific institution. This commitment can be problematic if your financial circumstances change.

Financial considerations:

While some colleges meet the full demonstrated financial need of ED applicants, others may not. If you need financial aid or scholarships to make college more affordable, it’s critical to thoroughly research the financial aid policies of the institution.

What is Regular Decision?

Regular decision is the standard application process that most students are familiar with. Regular Decision requires you to submit your college applications by the regular application deadline.

This is usually from 1st January, and you will receive your admission decision in the spring (late March into early April).

When you apply through RD, you are not committing to any specific institution. This nonbinding nature allows students to apply to multiple colleges and universities at the same time.

Who Should Apply for Regular Decision?

You should apply if:

  1. You have multiple schools on your list: Regular Decision is an excellent choice if you have several colleges or universities on your list and want to keep your options open.
  2. You need more time to prepare: Regular decisions are best if your senior year coursework, standardized test scores, or application materials are not where you want them to be. It can provide valuable extra time for improvement.
  3. You plan to take the ACT or SATs: If you intend to take the ACT or SAT to improve your standardized test scores, a regular decision can be a strategic choice. The extended application timeline allows you more time to prepare and register for these tests.
  4. You want to compare financial aid offers: Regular Decision is advantageous as it enables you to compare financial aid packages and scholarship offers from different colleges.

The above are also the advantages of the regular decision. Let’s look at the disadvantages of the regular decision.

Disadvantages Of Regular Decision

The limitations of the regular decision include the following:

  1. Longer waiting period: You’ll need to wait until the spring to receive your admission decisions, which can be stressful and uncertain.
  2. Higher competition: Regular Decision pools are typically more extensive and competitive. This is because you’ll be competing with a larger group of applicants for a limited number of spots.

Summary: A Quick Comparison of Early Decision Vs Regular Decision

Here is a quick side-by-side comparison of the two options. The table below summarizes the key differences:

Comparing AspectsEarly decisionRegular Decision
Application DeadlineEarly deadline, often in NovemberStandard deadline, typically January/February
Binding CommitmentBinding – Must enroll if admittedNon-binding – No enrollment obligation
Admission NotificationEarly, in DecemberLater, in March/April
Competitive AdvantagePotential for the higher acceptance ratePotentially more competitive
FlexibilityLimited flexibility can apply to oneGreater flexibility, apply to multiple
Decision-Making TimeQuick decision-makingMore time for decision-making
Opportunity for ImprovementLimited time for significant changesAdditional time for enhancements
Waiting PeriodShorter waiting periodLonger waiting period


The choice between early and regular decisions is a critical decision that hinges on several key factors. ED offers advantages such as higher acceptance rates and a competitive edge but comes with a binding commitment.

RD, on the other hand, provides flexibility and more time for preparation. However, it entails a longer waiting period and potentially greater competition.

Deciding between ED and RD should align with your individual circumstances, academic profile, and financial considerations. Students with a clear top-choice school may find ED beneficial, while those who prefer to explore multiple options may favor RD.

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