Deciding on the college you wish to attend is a big choice that requires immense consideration. There are various deadlines to apply to college, and some students choose to try their chances for an early decision. While there are upsides to this option, it’s also a binding agreement which means you must attend that college if you are accepted. But what happens if you apply early decision and don’t go? Are there legal, financial, or other types of negative consequences?
We’ve gathered everything you’ll want to know so that if you do apply early decision and circumstances change, you will be equipped with the facts.
What is Early Decision?
Early decision is a college application that is submitted in advance of the regular decision deadline. As such, college admissions committees will inform prospective students if they’ve been admitted or rejected sooner than they let the rest of the application pool know.
This also stands for early action applications. However, the biggest difference is that with early decision, students who are accepted are committing to attend that first-choice institution. This means that they’re agreeing to withdraw applications for other institutions should they be accepted into their early decision school.
The main drawback for this type of application is that you will be committing to attend an institution before you are able to assess any financial aid offerings.
Is Early Decision Binding?
Early decision is technically a binding agreement. There are a few exceptions that can allow you to get out of the early decision agreement, which we will soon explore.
The binding aspect of early decision is what differentiates it from early action (EA) or single-choice early action (SCEA). So, now you’re probably wondering, “Is early action binding?” Under an EA plan, you can apply to any colleges you like. Under SCEA, you can only choose one private college to apply to early, but you can then apply to as many public institutions that you’d like early or during regular decision timelines. These options are not binding.
Getting Out of Early Decisions
Even though early decision is intended to be binding, there are some legitimate reasons for why students may not be able to attend their early decision college of choice.
Some of the reasons that can get you out of early decision are:
- Financial aid: If the financial aid package is genuinely not enough to cover your needs, then you may be able to withdraw. However, before doing so, it’s advisable to communicate directly with the financial aid office to see if there’s anything else that can be done.
- Emergencies: If you’ve suffered a family or personal emergency, injury, or loss of life, then speak with the admissions office. It’s possible that the institution will either allow you to withdraw or even offer the option of a gap year.
Consequences of Backing Out
While the aforementioned reasons can get you out of early decision agreements with colleges, some students simply have a change of heart or mind after being accepted. If there isn’t a legitimate reason for not attending the college, then there may be consequences for doing so.
The institution may inform your high school. More importantly, the college has the right to inform other colleges, and this could cost you your accepted spot at those institutions.
Pros of Early Decision
Choosing to apply early decision is essentially a commitment. For students who are a strong match to their desired school of choice and have a clear preference of the college or university that they want to attend, early decision could provide several benefits.
- Less stress: Rather than having to wait longer to apply and receive a decision, a student with a strong inclination to attend one school over all others can apply early and receive their decision earlier.
- More time: When a student knows where they will attend college earlier in the year, they have more time to relax, have fun, and focus on their last few classes of their high school career.
- Less expensive: Since you’re applying to just one school, you forego the expense of paying application fees for the other options.
- Options: If you don’t get accepted to your early decision school, you can reassess your other options. It’s best to still have these back-up applications ready to go so you’re not pressed for time to apply during regular decision timelines.
Cons of Early Decision
Despite the benefits of an early decision application, there are naturally some downsides, too.
- Less financial aid opportunities: Students who apply early decision will receive financial aid offers at the time of decision. This means that they won’t have the opportunity to compare other institutions’ potential offerings, which could be very risky for a student who relies on financial aid to attend college.
- Pressure: It may feel like more pressure to decide on just one school and have it all figured out since the deadline is earlier and it’s a commitment upfront.
- Senioritis: Given students are accepted to college earlier than their peers, it may enhance the chances of giving into senioritis, causing them to slack for the rest of their senior year since they’ve already achieved their end goal. To prevent this, keep in mind that colleges still reserve the right to rescind their decisions should your grades slip up too much.
Financial Considerations and Alternatives
Financial considerations are of utmost concern for many students applying to college. However, it should never be the reason why a student can’t attend a college, and for that reason, the University of the People offers tuition-free degree programs.
Additionally, for students who wish to attend the college of their choice, it’s worthwhile to explore all financial aid options, including loans, scholarships, and grants.
Keep in mind that when applying early decision, your school of choice may require a deposit upfront. Should you choose not to attend after being accepted, the institution will most likely keep the deposit.
What if You are Not Accepted to Early Decision?
One of the reasons why college admissions may feel so stressful is because of the lack of certainty. It’s possible that you won’t be accepted to your first-choice school. Rather than focusing on the rejection, get your head back in the game! Continue to apply to other schools either through the Early Decision II process or regular decision.
Some schools may provide you with the response of a deferral. This means that you may still have a chance of being admitted, but down the line. If this is still your goal, then review and follow the directions from the institution. If you’d like more certainty, you can apply to other schools instead.
The Choice is Yours (and the School’s)
Applying early decision can help to alleviate stress levels during the application process. For students who truly have their eyes set on a particular school and they meet the requirements, then it could be a great option!
However, now that you know what happens if you apply early decision and don’t go, you must assess whether or not you think it’s still the best decision to make.