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Early decision is an option available to college applicants who have a strong opinion about their first choice of school and wish to make a binding commitment to their first choice. With this option, the deadline for the application is moved up, allowing the college to make an admissions decision earlier than it would otherwise. If a student is accepted under early decision, he or she is obliged to attend.
Not all colleges and universities offer this choice. For those which do, there are three possible outcomes to an early decision application. The first is rejection, meaning that the student will not be admitted because the application failed to meet the standards of the admissions committee. Another is acceptance, in which case the student has been admitted and the process of filling out paperwork to matriculate can begin. A third is deferral, in which the student is not admitted through the program, but the application will be considered during the regular round of admissions. If a deferral results in admission under regular admissions, the application is not considered binding, and the student may opt to attend another college.
Early decision can reduce some of the stress of the senior year. Knowing that he or she is admitted under a binding contract, a student may opt to take challenging courses in the spring of senior year without worrying about the impact of these courses on college admissions. Students who are worried about having to wait over the course of an extended period of time may also appreciate knowing early on, with admissions, rejections, and deferrals being issued in mid-December, while other students may have to wait as late as March or April to hear from colleges.
The disadvantage of filling out an early decision application is that it is binding. If a student is not sure about where he or she wants to go, this limits choices, because if the student is accepted, there are no other options. While early decision application is an excellent choice for students who know exactly where they want to go and are very comfortable with their first choice, students mulling several options should apply regular decision.
The alternative to early decision is early action, in which students can file and receive an admissions decision early, but the decision is not binding. In early decision, students can apply to one school only under an early decision application; with early action, they can apply to multiple schools. Another variant, single choice early action, requires students to apply to one school only via early action, but the decision is still not binding. Students who apply via early decision or early action programs are welcome to apply to as many colleges as they wish under regular admission.
It appears that early decision is a good way to go, because even if a student is not accepted to the university of their choice, there is still time to apply to other universities.