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‘Congratulations on your acceptance’: We debate ‘early decision’ college admissions

LA Johnson/NPR

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While most high school seniors are currently finishing up college applications, some have already received early decision admission.

Early decision is a process by which a student applies to one university in November and, should they be accepted, are obligated to attend. This helps universities lock in a portion of their incoming class, and increases yield rate, which boosts rankings and has financial benefits for the school.

Critics of early decision say this poses a disadvantage to lower income students, who may not have the resources needed to navigate the application process, and also need to compare financial aid offers from various school before committing. Additionally, the perks of applying early, namely a much higher chance of acceptance, incentivize students to commit to a school before they’ve had a chance to think through what they want from higher education.

On the flip side, for the student who knows exactly where they want to go, early decision is a boon, and should they be accepted, allows them to experience a stress-reduced senior year. And Ivies have argued that their skewed early decision admittance rates are actually a result of the applicant pool being stronger, not special preference.

Students, parents, educators, counselors – what do you think of early decision? Does it create an unfair playing field or is it a helpful course of action for students who’ve committed to one school?


Bruce Poch, dean of admission and executive director of college counseling at Chadwick School and former Dean of Admissions of Pomona College, which offers early decision  

Jon Reider, director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School, co-author of Admission Matters: What Students and Parents Need to Know About Getting into College