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Countdown to college: Think twice before taking ‘early decision’ route

Before you hit submit for that Nov. 1 Early Decision (ED) deadline, consider this:

Early Decision is binding. That means that if you are accepted, you MUST go. That’s a great option if the college you’re applying to is your dream school and you are 100 percent certain you can see yourself on their campus next fall.

But if you’re harboring any lingering doubts about whether or not this college is the perfect place for you, reconsider your ED application.

Undeniably there are benefits associated with applying ED, not the least of which is that you will know where you’re going to college before Christmas, if you are accepted. For many students that is an amazingly worthwhile perk.

The thought of not having to write a dozen or more essays for other colleges with deadlines in January is attractive. Even more appealing is the relief you’ll experience. While your academic performance needs to be maintained, the stress of standardized testing, meeting college deadlines, getting letters of recommendation, etc., is all behind you.

On the other hand, one of the biggest drawbacks is that come next March and April, ED students will not be able to compare one college with another. This lack of choice also extends to financial aid offers. Some families are able to leverage their financial aid packages and can increase the amount of merit or need-based aid they receive by allowing colleges to see competitive offers from other colleges.

Some students and parents are too eager and make the decision to apply ED too quickly. Many college counselors are concerned that families are feeling pressured to apply somewhere, anywhere ED.

Susan Goodkin, owner of California Learning Strategies Center, shared that “from fall to spring of senior year is a long time, and many students will mature and change a lot during that time. What students are looking for in a college may also change in that time, so you don’t want them locked into a choice they made early in the year. The extra time before applying allows them the opportunity to take standardized tests again, deepen their extracurricular involvements, and get another set of grades.

“Some families are so ready to be done with the college application process that they convince themselves they’re in love with a school so they can apply ED. I advise all my families to resist that urge and challenge them to apply ED only if it is for the right reasons.”

Tips for thinking about Early Decision:

• Don’t declare you’re applying ED and then decide where. Figure out which college represents the best fit for you and then determine if they offer an ED program.

• Don’t apply ED without having visited the college. Sounds pretty basic, but you’d be surprised how often it happens.

• Check out colleges that offer ED II programs. Similar arrangements but later dates. Some colleges will allow you to change your regular decision application into an ED II round in January.

Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. Visit her website College Admissions Strategies.