In his article, The Debate Over Early Decision In College Admission: Who Is It Good For?, Brennan Barnard reminds us that colleges offer Early Decision to help them manage the ever-growing volumes of applications they are receiving. As much as they care about students, and I truly believe they do, the primary responsibility of the admissions office, as Rick Clark from Georgia Tech reminds us, is to maintain “the viability and health of (their own) institution(s).”
As enticing as it is, students should not apply Early Decision simply because they “want to get this process over with” or even because they think their chances of being accepted are appreciably better. If accepted, a student is obligated to attend that college and, while you might have heard stories of students who have reneged on their signed promises, that is a highly unethical practice and one that in almost every instance won’t be supported by any ethical educational consultant or school college counselor.
Further, while this chart created by Jeff Kent and Jennie Kent shows that at many colleges the ED admit rates are significantly higher than the admit rates for students who apply Regular Decision, you need to look deeper into those numbers and understand that those ED pools include recruited athletes who are all but guaranteed admissions, which skews the statistics. In some instances, the accept rates for non-athletes are about the same in the ED and Regular Decision rounds, so be sure to get the data relevant to your situation before making this momentous decision.
I do think that when students have done a thorough and thoughtful job of researching the colleges that they are applying to and fully understand their options, that ED can be a powerful option. It signals clearly to a college that they are the student’s first choice. It is evidence that a student is able to manage a long and complex process in a timely way. And it does give strong candidates a chance to “get their college process over with.” But it is not a decision to be made lightly or in haste, and should only be made if it truly serves the best interests of the student.