Q: I am trying to decide if I should apply to college Early Decision. I visited a few colleges over the summer, and saw three that I really like. I have a GPA of about 91, pretty decent SATs, and Regents scores in the 90s. My counselor says I have a good shot at several SUNY colleges, maybe even honor programs, and some other schools. My question is, will applying Early Decision to the private colleges give me a better chance of admission? A lot of my friends are saying that applying early shows interest, so you have a better shot at getting in.
A: Filing an Early Decision application is a huge commitment. You should do so ONLY if 1) you are absolutely, completely, 100% in love with a particular school, and 2) financial aid is not a priority.
Early Decision acceptances are binding, and under the terms of the decision you will not be allowed to wait and see if you are admitted elsewhere. Neither will you have the opportunity to weigh different financial aid offers. If you are accepted to a school under Early Decision, you are committed to enrolling there.
Generally when you file an Early Decision application, you, a parent, and your college counselor will have to sign a contract saying that you understand these terms and are willing to abide by them. You cannot make this choice lightly.
You mention that you are very impressed by three schools you saw. And your credentials are admirable. Your counselor is correct in stating that you ought to have many options. Early Decision will limit those options. Filing regular applications – which most applicants, nationwide, do anyway – will allow you to choose from among your acceptances. And this will buy you more time: you will not have to state your choice for enrollment until May 1.
At some colleges, yes, an Early Decision application will earn favor because you are expressing interest AND agreeing to pay the sticker price. But a college -- particularly a selective institution – will not accept a student it would not accept at a later date.
You sound like you want to have many choices. In that case, do not yield to the pressure to apply early. Give yourself the opportunity to be accepted to several schools, to honors programs, and to weigh financial aid offers and possible scholarships. This does extend the admission process until next spring, but it will give you more control over where you will spend the subsequent four years!