Did you know that early decision isn't necessarily early? Binding decision might be a better name for it, since some schools now offer "early" decision deadlines in January, as well as in November.
Either way, applying early decision is a big commitment. If you apply this way, you should be totally sure you want to attend that school. Let's review the pros and cons of early decision, as well as look at all the schools with early decision admission.
What Is Early Decision?
Early decision is a binding admission plan. When you apply early decision, you sign a statement agreeing to enroll in the college if you're accepted. Because of this binding agreement to enroll, you can only apply to one school early decision.
Applying this way is a great choice if you've done your research, weighed your options, and have zeroed in on your dream school. You also want to make sure you can attend the school regardless of the financial aid package it offers you. Since early decision requires this commitment, it may not be an option that's accessible to everyone.
This financial factor has been a point of controversy for the past few years, causing some schools to switch from early decision to non-binding early action plans. However, many schools still offer early decision, as you'll see below, perhaps to remain competitive and gain a more accurate sense of enrollment numbers. Rather than offering spots to students who may or may not attend, colleges can be sure that early decision applicants will enroll next fall.
Some schools appear to accept a higher percentage of early decision candidates than regular decision candidates. Since you're committing to a school when you apply this way, your enthusiasm for the school might make a good impression on admissions officers. However, early decision doesn't necessarily give you a better chance of getting accepted. Your first priority should be submitting the best application you can.
As I mentioned above, not all early decision deadlines are actually early. Traditionally, early decision deadlines are in November. You'll get notified in mid-December, meaning you might have your college plans finalized before the new year.
Some schools now also offer Early Decision II. Early Decision II has the same stipulations as Early Decision I, but its deadline is typically in January. Early Decision II is a good option for students who are ready to sign a binding agreement, but could benefit from a couple more months to prepare their application. Applying later gives you the opportunity to take the SAT or ACT again, if needed, as well as to send mid-year grades from your senior classes.
When you apply early decision in November, you might get accepted, denied, or deferred. Getting deferred means that your application will be pushed into the regular applicant pool to be reviewed again in February or March. If this happens, then you're no longer bound to the enrollment agreement you made and can apply to any other schools under regular decision. You might also consider sending along any other information, like a recommendation letter or mid-year grades, that could help make your application stronger.
Some popular schools with early decision include Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, and the University of Pennsylvania. Some schools that offer both Early Decision I and Early Decision II deadlines are American University, Boston University, Brandeis, Bowdoin, Colby, NYU, Pomona, Smith, Tufts, Wesleyan, and Vanderbilt.
There are lots of other early decision schools besides these well-known, competitive schools. You'll find the full list below.
Complete List: Schools Offering Early Decision
Here's the full list of schools with early decision by state. The starred schools offer both Early Decision I and Early Decision II. Scroll down or hit "Ctrl + f" to find any specific schools you're interested in.
* Indicates Schools Offering Early Decision I and II
|California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo||CA|
|California State University Sacramento||CA|
|Claremont McKenna College*||CA|
|Harvey Mudd College*||CA|
|New School of Architecture & Design||CA|
|Santa Clara University||CA|
|University of San Francisco||CA|
|Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts||CT|
|Sacred Heart University||CT|
|George Washington University*||DC|
|Florida Southern College||FL|
|University of Miami||FL|
|University of South Florida||FL|
|Lake Forest College*||IL|
|Lakeview College of Nursing||IL|
|Moody Bible Institute||IL|
|University of Illinois at Chicago||IL|
|Saint Mary's College||IN|
|Southern University at New Orleans||LA|
|College of the Holy Cross||MA|
|Mount Holyoke College*||MA|
|Johns Hopkins University||MD|
|Maryland Institute College of Art||MD|
|St. Mary's College of Maryland*||MD|
|College of the Atlantic*||ME|
|Maine Maritime Academy||ME|
|St. Olaf College*||MN|
|Washington University in St. Louis||MO|
|Fayetteville State University||NC|
|High Point University||NC|
|Wake Forest University||NC|
|Warren Wilson College||NC|
|College of Saint Mary Magdalen||NH|
|Stevens Institute of Technology*||NJ|
|The College of New Jersey*||NJ|
|Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences||NY|
|Baruch College (City University of New York)||NY|
|Buffalo State College||NY|
|College at Old Westbury||NY|
|College of New Rochelle||NY|
|College of Wooster||NY|
|Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art||NY|
|Five Towns College||NY|
|Hobart and William Smith Colleges*||NY|
|New York University*||NY|
|Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute*||NY|
|Rochester Institute of Technology||NY|
|Sarah Lawrence College*||NY|
|St. John Fisher College||NY|
|St. Lawrence University||NY|
|State University of New York at Fredonia||NY|
|State University of New York at Oswego||NY|
|State University of New York College at Geneseo||NY|
|State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry||NY|
|State University of New York Maritime College||NY|
|The Jewish Theological Seminary*||NY|
|University at Buffalo||NY|
|University of Rochester||NY|
|Case Western Reserve University*||OH|
|College of Wooster*||OH|
|Ohio Wesleyan University||OH|
|Lewish & Clark College||OR|
|Bryn Mawr College*||PA|
|Carnegie Mellon University||PA|
|Franklin & Marshall College*||PA|
|Grove City College||PA|
|University of Pennsylvania||PA|
|Washington & Jefferson College||PA|
|Rhode Island School of Design||RI|
|Sewanee: University of the South*||TN|
|Southern Methodist University*||TX|
|Sul Ross State University||TX|
|Texas Christian University||TX|
|Texas Southern University||TX|
|Christopher Newport University||VA|
|College of William and Mary||VA|
|Mary Baldwin College||VA|
|University of Richmond*||VA|
|Virginia Commonwealth University||VA|
|Virginia Military Institute||VA|
|Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University||VA|
|Washington and Lee University*||VA|
|University of Puget Sound*||WA|
|Walla Walla University||WA|
*Offers Early Decision I and II
If you're thinking about applying early decision to any of these schools, make sure you've considered the following.
Should You Apply Early Decision?
Have you done research on your top school? Have you visited and explored the campus? Do you have solid reasons for wanting to attend, and have felt this way for at least several months? If you answered yes to these questions, then it sounds like you've been thorough in deciding on your top school.
If you're unsure, tend to change your mind a lot, or aren't excited about attending the school, then early decision wouldn't be a good choice for you. The most important point to remember about applying early decision is that you're making a binding commitment. That means you are agreeing to enroll in the school if accepted, regardless of whatever financial aid offer you receive.
Some schools say they meet all demonstrated financial need, but you won't have a guarantee that the package will be what you expected or wanted it to be. In addition to learning all about your school of choice, make sure you've considered this financial piece to applying early decision, as well. If you have questions or concerns, you can call the financial aid office for advice, too.
If you'd like to get your application in by the early deadline and find out early, you also want to make sure you're sending off the strongest application you can. It requires months of planning and prepping to achieve your target SAT or ACT scores, gather your recommendation letters, and write your personal essay. Below are suggestions for scheduling out your college planning in advance of an early decision deadline.
Schedule Out Your College Planning
Since applying to college has a lot of components that require time and help from your teachers and counselor, you want to start early and keep track of everything. Write down all the requirements, mark your progress, and set deadlines for yourself to make sure you get everything done. Perhaps the application requirement you should start preparing for earliest is the SAT or ACT, both in terms of test prep and taking the official tests.
Since September or October of senior year would be the last time to take the ACT or SAT, you want to have enough opportunities to take the test and improve your scores. You might take it for the first time in the spring of sophomore year, again in the fall of junior year, and again in the spring of junior year. If you feel like two test dates junior year, along with the final one in the fall of senior year, is sufficient, then you could take your first test in the fall of junior year.
Your goal might be to have your SAT or ACT scores all set by the end of junior year, so you don't have to worry about achieving your target scores on that last test date senior year. If you're applying Early Decision II with the January deadline, then you'll have a little more wiggle room in terms of available test dates.
Beyond your standardized testing, you should plan out your recommendation letters and personal essay. Ask for your rec letters (and any other documents you need the school to send, like your transcript) at least a month in advance of deadlines, typically by October. You might also ask junior year teachers at the end of junior year. Asking at the end of 11th grade can be a good idea regardless of your college deadlines since your junior year teachers will remember you most clearly then.
Finally, work on your personal essay over the summer, leaving several months to brainstorm ideas and work through several drafts and revisions. Your personal essay is your chance to share your voice with the admissions committee. You want to give yourself time to say exactly what you want to say.
Beyond these components, you can work on your Common Application or school application during the fall, proofreading for any errors and gathering all the important information. Make sure to discuss with your counselor your reasons for applying early decision, and finally have your parents and counselor sign the early decision agreement form.
Applying this way will signal your commitment and excitement about a school to admissions committees. You can impress them even further with a thoughtful, thorough application that demonstrates exactly why you'd be a great fit at their college.
Now that you know all the schools with early decision, check out their Early Decision I and Early Decision II deadlines here.
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Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.