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5 Signs You Shouldn’t Apply Early Decision To College

With the release of this year’s Common App essays on the horizon, you’re probably already thinking about the upcoming deadlines. The beginning of November usually marks the first round of application due dates. If you’re a little late to the application scene, it’s really important to distinguish between early decision and early action applications. Typically, early decision is a binding contract, meaning if the school accepts you, then you’re obligated to go. Early action, however, is just an earlier version of regular decision, and there’s no binding contract involved. If you’re unsure whether early decision is right for you, consider the following signs that you’re probably not ready for this possibly life-altering commitment.

1. The financial situation makes you nervous

No matter what kind of background you come from, financial aid can be a touchy subject for your family. The sky-high price tag of a single college semester is enough to drop a school from your application list. One of the stipulations of submitting an application by any deadline is you won’t know the financial aid package until you’re accepted.  

Becca Segel, a sophomore at Case Western Reserve University, believes that you should be wary of the monetary gamble you’re taking by applying early decision. “You don’t want to bind yourself to a school because you could also bind yourself to a certain financial plan,” she says.  “It’s possible another school would’ve offered you more money, but you’re already bound to the first school.” If you’re having second thoughts because of tuition, it’s probably best to talk to your family or college counselor before applying early decision. Money is a crucial part of the college experience, especially with the possibility of future debt accumulation. Part-time jobs, loans, and scholarships can affect the financial aid you’re stuck with if you apply early decision.

2. You’re strongly considering other schools

It’s completely possible to be in love with multiple schools, but you can’t apply to more than one for early decision. You should, however, apply to other schools via regular decision if you don’t get accepted to your early decision school.

Zaynah Javed, a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley, advises that your early decision school should rise above all the rest. “I was going through this when applying to colleges,” she says. “One sign for me was that I wasn’t absolutely in LOVE with the school. I’m naturally more logical, so I saw it as a way to increase my chances. But this was a bad way of looking at it since I came to realize that the college I wanted to apply early decision to wasn’t one I had no reservations about.”

You wouldn’t want to regret being forced to go to a school you weren’t ecstatic about attending. You’ll want to be proud of your alma mater the rest of your life. Please don’t be the student that roots for the other team at home sporting events. Chances are you’ll want to transfer if you’re cheating on your own school.

Related: What to Do if You Regret Applying Early Decision

3. It just doesn’t feel 100 percent right

Every decision in life requires at least some thought. Whether you’re deciding between desserts or colleges, you should weigh all possible choices. Casey Mullins, a sophomore at Stanford University, believes that listening to your intuition is a good way to decide if applying early decision is the best option. “I’d say that when making decisions about college, you’ve got to trust your gut,” she says. “If you find yourself constantly second guessing or questioning the school you’re thinking of applying early decision to, consider that it might be your subconscious telling you it’s not quite right,” she says. “I think the school you apply to early decision should be your first choice. It should be the place you’d never want to turn down.”

Even if you’re a strictly logical person, you should be completely comfortable with signing a binding contract. If you’re not, you might want to ponder the decision longer. Complete assurance is a sign you’re ready to commit. Anything but a good feeling should set off warning bells in your head that applying early decision isn’t the best idea.  

4. You’re going to start the application really late

Depending on your planning habits and your schedule, you could end up starting an early decision application three days before the deadline. Before you try and write 3,000 words in one night, think about the last-minute stress you’ll feel. Dr. Bari Norman, a certified educational planner and co-founder and president of Expert Admissions, advises against turning a college application into a spur-of-the-moment decision. “In an ideal world, you don’t make decisions at the very last moment. Deadlines lead us to make decisions quickly, but it’s always important to give yourself a cushion,” she says. “The only thing you can do to deal with the stress of feeling under the gun is to try your best to prepare. Be authentic to avoid feeling jittery while pressing the submit button.”

If you don’t think you can showcase your best self in your early decision application, it might be better to apply regular decision instead. While it’s difficult to finish an application only a few days before the deadline, polishing the writing portions is even more tedious.  You may skip this part altogether and miss silly typos that could come across as careless, costing you an acceptance.  

5. You’re applying for the wrong reasons

College admission often morphs into a high-pressure competition among friends and family members. For magnet high schools, an early decision acceptance is like a medal of honor. Students strive to be that top achiever that gets into all eight Ivy League schools, or really, any school they perceive to be elite. Applying early decision is a way to up increase your chances. Schools will sometimes accept more students in the first round because the applicant pool is smaller.

Kayley Miller, a sophomore at Stanford University, believes that parents should be supportive but not controlling in the college application process. “I think having an extra layer of pressure from my parents would’ve made me second guess myself,” she says. “I knew where I wanted my early decision application to go and was lucky to have parents who allowed me to send it there.”

Friends and significant others tend to also sway unsure minds when it comes to college applications. If you’re only applying early decision to a school because your best friend is dying to go there, please think twice about pressing the submit button. You may grow apart in during college or just not like the school as much as they do. Your own happiness and success should be the most important, not anybody else’s.  

Applying to college is stressful enough, but when you factor in binding deadlines, the stakes are raised even higher. If you’re considering applying to a school early decision, it’s really important to think about all possible outcomes and whether or not you’re okay with all of them. We want you to celebrate college acceptances without the burden of a million “What if?” questions zooming around in your mind. If any of these signs speak to you, take it as a reminder to think twice about hitting that final submission button.

Emily Schmidt

Stanford '20

Emily Schmidt is a junior at Stanford University, studying English and Spanish. Originally from the suburbs of Philadelphia, she quickly fell in love with the Californian sunshine and warm winter temperatures. Emily writes a hodgepodge of pieces from satiric articles for The Stanford Daily to free-verse poetry to historical fiction. Just like her writing repertoire, her collection of hobbies are widely scattered from speed-crocheting to Irish dancing to practicing calligraphy. When she is not writing or reading, Emily can also be found jamming out to Phil Collins or watching her favorite film, 'Belle.'