An Early Decision Commitment Really is Binding

Early Decision commitments are binding (photo credit: Bryan Y.W. Shin).

If a student applies under a school’s Early Decision policy, his or her admission is binding. Let’s repeat that word not once, not twice, but three times so we can effectively drive our point home: it’s binding, binding, binding. So when we read a piece today up on Inside Higher Ed by Jim Jump entitled “Ethical College Admissions: Early Decision De-Commitment,” we were disheartened to read that he recommended that a student inquire about potentially reneging on his Early Decision commitment. Unless the student’s financial need changed since he first applied — which it did not in this case — we would never suggest a student reach out to the school that offered him admission in the hope he could weasel his way out of his Early Decision commitment that he made when he signed on that dotted line.

College Counselor Recommends Student Inquire About Reneging on Early Decision Commitment

Jump shares the story of a fellow college counselor in his piece — and the predicament the counselor found himself in when the parent of one of his students inquired to him about reneging on an Early Decision commitment. As Jump writes, “One of the counselor’s students had just been admitted early decision, with the college meeting the student’s demonstrated financial need. Just in the previous couple of days, though, the student had been contacted by a Division III coach from a college other than the one the student had committed to attending about playing his sport at the college level. Up until that point, the student had never considered that as a possibility, and he was now excited and interested in pursuing the opportunity. The boy’s father, having read about the changes to the National Association for College Admission Counseling Code of Ethics and Professional Practices…argued that the student should be able to apply to the second college.”

Jump continues, “I don’t think an ED commitment should be made lightly, but in this instance the student is presented with an opportunity he didn’t know was a possibility when he applied early decision. The ethical dilemma here is a conflict between the student living up to his commitment or following his heart. The even more important principles are truthfulness and courtesy, so I would require the student to contact the college and ask it to release him from the early decision commitment.”

We Would Never Encourage a Student to Inquire About Reneging on Early Decision Commitment

But Jump, in our opinion, has given some very poor advice to this college counselor. The student was an athlete but never considered he could get recruited? We simply don’t buy it. The fact is this student signed on the dotted line. He gave his word that if admitted, he would attend the school to which he applied Early Decision. By doing so, he fully understood his commitment. He understood that a change in his family’s financial circumstances or the college not being able to meet his family’s financial need were the only valid reasons for not attending the school if admitted via Early Decision. The changes made by NACAC in response to the Department of Justice probe do not — we repeat do not — in any way invalidate Early Decision commitments.

Indeed nowhere in the terms of this student’s Early Decision commitment did it state that if a Division 3 college athletic coach were to contact him after he earns admission, he could get out of his commitment. And the fact that Jump is even entertaining the idea of this student reneging on his binding commitment sets a bad example for other college counselors, for students, for parents, for everyone. The student should not be reaching out to the school that offered him admission to try to get out of attending. He should be buying a t-shirt of the school that graciously offered him admission — and going next fall.

 
 

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2 Comments

  • Just talkin says:

    As usual, Ivy Coach tells it like it is here – there is no “ethical conflict,” there is simply an effort to take what the applicant thought of as a better offer. Them’s the rules. But it is fair for the next wave of applicants to question whether they should be the rules. What would the world look like if ED was an offer by the college, not the student? That is, thanks for applying ED, we have decided that, if you want us to be your first choice, we will take you rather than, we’ve decided to make your application binding.

    I think this is much like dumping ED/ED2 for SCEA everywhere, though it would likely require a time limit on the time to accept. I suspect schools would still admit the new ED applicants at a much higher clip, but students get an out to account for events that took place in that month or so while their admission was pending. But the students still used their best shot at their first choice school. Let the colleges bear more of the uncertainty. What is the downside for a bit more healthy competition?

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