Are Early Decision Admissions Unfair?

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Emma Bapp, Contributor

The moral of applying to college is essentially commitment. You are committing to your future for the next four years. Where you want to live, the environment you want to be in, the type of education you want and the list goes on. So how are you supposed to look at the option to fully commit to a school before you even know if you got in? This is what an Early Decision program is. According to the College Board, Early Decision (ED) is a binding agreement between a student and a college or university in which if the student is granted admission, they will attend and will withdraw applications to all other schools. Applicants apply ED to only one college and will receive a decision early (generally in December). They will agree to attend with the financial aid plan that is a decided fit for the family by the school. Laid out, it seems to be a benefit to applicants; however, when looked at more closely, it is evident that Early Decision programs are not fair to most students.

According to, “The fact is, there are a large number of super-high-achieving students out there who have access to serious resources, insider and familial knowledge, and sophisticated strategies to get into the best colleges in the country.” Early Decision is one of these strategies, and despite it being offered to all applicants, it favors those who have had the privilege of connections and poses a problem for those who do not. Early Decision programs pose a situation that can become financially unfair for many families. If an applicant is accepted, they will receive what the school deems appropriate financial aid. However, this may not be enough to support the applicant in attending, and because they have already committed, they can not weigh the aid packages given to them by other colleges and universities. This puts applicants who do not come from wealthy backgrounds at a disadvantage when applying ED and gives their counterparts from privileged backgrounds an advantage. This reveals the unfairness of ED when applying and upon acceptance, but it does not begin to cover the struggle of being rejected.

If an applicant is rejected from an Early Decision program, it puts immense pressure on them. According to the College Board, schools will typically release early decisions on/around December 15th. This puts a serious time constraint (about two weeks) on students to now apply regular decision to colleges in order to meet the typical January 1st deadline. The rejected student will now be worried about additional application fees that would have been avoided had they been accepted to their first choice ED school, as well as putting out their best application in a short amount of time. It also forces applicants to submit more of their grades from their senior year, which with a bad case of senioritis, may not look appealing to the schools. Due to the fact that students who apply ED are generally applying to their first choice “dream school,” they will have more knowledge and have put more effort into reaching that specific school to make sure it is perfect for them (as they would have had to commit to it). This results in less research done on backup schools, which the student must now choose from if they are rejected. This pushes students to make a serious decision with more options and less information, which is an excessive amount of pressure for a young-adult.

Proponents of early decision would argue that it gives applicants a higher chance of being accepted into highly-selective colleges or universities. According to, Johns Hopkins University is one of the most selective schools in the United States, with an acceptance rate of 10% for regular decision. According to, that rate triples with ED applicants, where the acceptance rate is 31%. However, this is partly because the students applying Early Decision are predominantly exceptional students who are applying to acquire an “edge,” according to Edward LaMiere, CEO of LaMiere College Consulting. This results in an overall stronger pool of applicants to choose from which, in turn, produces a higher acceptance rate. Furthermore, according to LaMiere, the statistical acceptance rate is outweighed by the strength of the applicants, which nearly nullifies the advantage. This, again, proves that applying ED is not fair to students as there is no true advantage unless the student has extreme financial and insider resources.

It is impossible to decide one’s future with complete certainty as it can not be fully predicted. Applying Early Decision is asking a student who is barely an adult, at the age of 18 or 17, to be fully certain in how and where the next four years of their life will take place. It requires them to be 100% certain about that choice. As a student currently applying to college, I can attest that this is extremely difficult. I imagine a list of boxes that need to be checked and how many are checked off for each school. Does this school set you up well for postgraduate work? Does this school have the atmosphere you want? Is this school in the location you want? As I check off these boxes I realize that, even though it can be advertised this way, the perfect fit is not always right in front of you. For this reason, Early Decision seems outright terrifying. It limits the time I have to know all of the boxes are checked and be absolutely certain I have made the right choice, while simultaneously eliminating the option to change my mind. This pressure to have complete confidence in a choice is unreasonable to put on a student and stresses that ED programs are unfair for students.

Early decision programs are not for the majority of students applying to college. They lock an applicant into a binding agreement, favor students who are already at an advantage when applying and put immense pressure on students overall. Early Decision eliminates the ability to assess all options once a student is accepted to assure you are finding the perfect fit, which is the point of applying to college. Even if a student believes that the school they chose for ED is the perfect fit, and they are accepted, it still poses the question: what could have been? What if there had been the chance to pick from more than one college and all they offer, financially and opportunity wise? That is a question that should not have to be asked.