The Ivy Coach Daily

May 30, 2023

What Is Early Decision in College Admissions?

Students walk in front of the arch at the University of Pennsylvania.
The University of Pennsylvania has a binding Early Decision policy (photo credit: Bryan Y.W. Shin).

Are you unsure of the meaning of an Early Decision policy? In elite college admissions, many schools offer students the opportunity to apply Early Decision. But what exactly is Early Decision, what are its benefits, and how is it distinguished from Early Action? Let’s dive in!

Defining Early Decision

Early Decision is a binding policy under which applicants commit in writing to attending the school if offered admission, decisions which are typically released in mid-December. Students who apply through a school’s Early Decision policy send in their applications typically by November 1st of their senior year in high school.

The Rules of Early Decision

For all colleges that offer Early Decision policies, applicants are only permitted to make a binding commitment to a single school. Yet students who apply Early Decision to one school, which should be the school they most wish to attend, may also apply Early Action to any public university. And for most schools with Early Decision policies, students can also apply Early Action to private universities with explicit non-restrictive policies.

A Permissible Early Decision Strategy

For instance, Early Decision applicants to the University of Pennsylvania are allowed to apply Early Action to top public institutions like the University of Michigan, the University of Virginia, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and other public universities (they can also apply to the University of California schools by November 30th). Additionally, they can apply to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the California Institute of Technology, and the University of Chicago. All three of these institutions are private schools with non-restrictive Early Action policies.

An Impermissible Early Decision Strategy

However, Early Decision applicants to UPenn cannot apply Single Choice Early Action to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or Stanford or Early Decision to Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, Cornell, Duke, Northwestern, or any other institution. In short, students can only apply to one school Early Decision. After all, they’re making a binding commitment, and this is not HBO’s Big Love, where a man gets away with making a marriage commitment to many women. And if you’re wondering if your child will get caught if they make binding commitments to two different schools, they will, and they will end up getting into neither school.

Early Decision Notifications

Students receive their Early Decision notifications usually in mid-December, right before the holidays. Students are either accepted, deferred, or denied.

Accepted Early Decision Applicants

If the student is accepted Early Decision, their college admissions process is done as the college they’ll be attending is decided. 

Deferred Early Decision Applicants

If the student is deferred in the Early Decision round, their application automatically rolls into the Regular Decision applicant pool. If the student is admitted through Regular Decision, usually in late March or early April, the student is no longer bound to attend — it’s the student’s choice.

Denied Early Decision Applicants

If the student is denied admission in the Early Decision round, their application will receive no further review this admissions cycle.

All About Early Decision II

While we hope that clarified all questions you may have had about Early Decision, there’s one more thing (hey, we didn’t write the policies — we’re just elucidating them for our readers). There’s Early Decision II!

Early Decision II applicants apply around January 1st through mid-January, depending on the individual school’s Early Decision II deadline, of their senior year of high school. Students Apply ED II in conjunction with applying Regular Decision to other universities.

When a student applies Early Decision II, they are bound to attend that school if offered admission — just like when students earn admission through ED I.

The Differences Between Early Decision I and Early Decision II

So what’s the difference between Early Decision I and Early Decision II? The two key differences are as follows:

Top National Universities with Early Decision Policies

Among the national universities ranked in the top 50 by US News & World Report in its 2023 college ranking, the following schools offer Early Decision policies:

College / University2023 US News Rank
University of Chicago#6
Johns Hopkins University#7
University of Pennsylvania#7
Duke University#10
Northwestern University#10
Dartmouth College#12
Brown University#13
Vanderbilt University#13
Rice University#15
Washington University in St. Louis#15
Cornell University#17
Columbia University#18
Carnegie Mellon University#22
Emory University#22
New York University#25
University of Virginia#25
Wake Forest University#29
Tufts University#32
Boston College#36
University or Rochester#36
Boston University#41
The College of William & Mary#41
Brandeis University#44
Case Western Reserve University#44
Northeastern University#44
Tulane University#44

Top Liberal Arts Colleges with Early Decision Policies

Among the liberal arts colleges ranked in the top 25 by US News & World Report in its 2023 college ranking, the following schools offer Early Decision policies:

College / University2023 US News Rank
Williams College#1
Amherst College#2
Pomona College#3
Swarthmore College#4
Wellesley College#5
Bowdoin College#6
Carleton College#6
Claremont McKenna College#9
Middlebury College#11
Washington and Lee University#11
Smith College#13
Vassar College#13
Davidson College#15
Grinnell College#15
Hamilton College#15
Barnard College#18
Colgate University#18
Haverford College#18
University of Richmond#18
Wesleyan University#18
Colby College#24
Bates College#25

Top Schools with Early Decision II Policies

The following schools offer Early Decision II options. Schools denoted with an asterisk are ranked in the top 50 among national universities by US News & World Report in their 2023 ranking. Schools denoted with a hashtag are ranked in the top 25 among liberal arts colleges by US News & World Report in the 2023 ranking:

College / UniversityEarly Decision II Deadline
Babson College #January 4
Bates Colleges #January 11
Boston College *January 10
Boston University *January 4
Bowdoin College #January 5
Brandeis University *January 1
Carleton College #January 15
Carnegie Mellon University *January 3
Case Western Reserve University *January 15
Claremont McKenna College #January 11
Colby College #January 1
Colgate University #January 15
College of William and Mary *January 2
Davidson College #January 2
Emory University *January 1
Hamilton College #January 4
Haverford College #January 6
Johns Hopkins University *January 4
Middlebury College #January 3
New York University *January 1
Northeastern University *January 1
Pomona College #January 8
Rhodes CollegeJanuary 15
Smith College #January 1
Swarthmore College #January 4
Tufts University *January 1
Tulane University *January 8
University of Chicago *January 4
University of Richmond #January 1
University of Rochester *January 5
Vanderbilt University *January 1
Vassar College #January 1
Wake Forest University *January 1
Washington and Lee University #January 1
Washington University in St. Louis *January 1
Wellesley College #January 1
Wesleyan University #January 1
* – Ranked in Top 50 of 2023 US News & World Report ranking of Best National Universities# – Ranked in Top 25 of 2023 US News & World Report ranking of Best Liberal Arts Colleges

Ivy Coach’s Assistance with Early Decision Applications

To give our readers a little taste, among the top universities with Early Decision policies, over the last 30 years, every one of Ivy Coach’s package clients got into Columbia University 27 times (27/30), UPenn 27 times (27/30), Dartmouth College 28 times (28/30), Duke University 27 times (27/30), Cornell University 24 times (24/30), Brown 24 times (24/30). And the list goes on.

If you’re interested in Ivy Coach’s assistance with earning admission through Early Decision, fill out our free consultation form, and we’ll write you back to schedule a free consultation to outline our services.

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