Does Early Decision increase your chances of getting into universities of your choice?

Reema Dalal had ‘good’ SAT scores and grades, and was extremely keen on getting into Columbia University – an Ivy League university. Ordinarily, Reema’s chances of getting into Columbia would be around 14 per cent, but since she applied for ‘Early Decision’, her chances of acquiring admission were close to 40 per cent and she was offered admission to one of the most coveted universities in the United States.

Does Reema’s story demonstrate that Early Decision increases your chances of getting admission? Few universities will actually claim that a student has better chances of getting admission if they apply through the Early Decision program. In fact, Harvard University’s website states, “There is no incentive whatsoever for Early Action colleges to admit weaker candidates early and then have to reject stronger Regular Action candidates. Diminishing the quality of the student body would be antithetical to the goals of any institution.” However, statistics speak for themselves. For the class of 2004, Yale University admitted fewer than 16 per cent of applicants who applied for regular admission as compared to 37 per cent of the students who applied for Early Decision. Similarly Amherst College accepted 35 per cent of ED candidates as compared to 19 per cent of regular candidates. Again, at the University of Pennsylvania, the numbers were 26 per cent and 47 per cent for regular and early decision applicants, respectively. (Statistics obtained from The Atlantic) Early Decision has ramifications on the SAT scores as well. Research by Christopher Avery of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and others, showed that applicants with a combined SAT score of 1400 to 1490, who applied for Early Decision were as likely to be accepted as regular admission candidates whose scores range from 1500 to 1600. Similarly, an Early Decision candidate with scores ranging from 1200 to 1290, had a greater chance of being accepted than a regular admission candidate with scores ranging from 1300 to 1390.

Applicants who are admitted under the Early Decision program cannot initiate new applications and must withdraw their applications from all pending universities. Also, keep in mind that you are not allowed to apply to two universities for Early Decision. Most schools have a deadline of November 15 for Early Decision applicants.

Even though the Early Decision program works best for students who don’t require any financial assistance, many schools like Dartmouth College will match the financial need of students if admitted under the ED program. Other schools let you off the hook if their financial aid offer does not match the financial need you demonstrated.

James Fallows of The Atlantic has a contradictory view of the entire Early Decision program. “Today’s high school students and their parents have no choice but to adapt their application strategies to the way Early Decision has changed the nature of college admissions. Tomorrow’s students should hope that the increasingly obvious drawbacks of the system will lead to its elimination,” states Fallows on his website.

Fallows on his website claims that universities such as the University of Pennsylvania have increased their number of students through the Early Decision program. “When US News published its first list of best colleges in 1983, Penn was not even ranked among national universities. Last year, it was tied with Stanford for Number Six – ahead of Dartmouth, Columbia, Cornell, and Brown in the Ivy League, and Duke and the University of Chicago. It also made unusually effective use of the most controversial tactic in today’s elite college admissions business – the ‘Early Decision’ program. Early Decision has helped not only Penn. It holds so many advantages for so many colleges that its use has grown steadily over the past decade and mushroomed in the past five years. Early Decision, or ED, is an arranged marriage: Both parties gain security at the expense of freedom. But the loss is asymmetrical, constraining the student much more than the institution.”

Despite Fallows’ views, Early Decision and Early Action program have their advantages. If you decide to apply to any school for ED or EA, make an educated choice. If you are admitted to the college under the Early Decision program, you will have to attend the college, so be sure that this college is your first choice.