The Early Decision and Financial Aid Dilemma

The Early Decision and Financial Aid Dilemma

Early decision application and financial aid are probably two of the most confusing and (seemingly) complicated things for students when applying to college. The idea of entering into a binding contract with a school is terrifying, as is the prospect of not being able to afford the enormous cost of higher education. As January 1st is the first chance students have to fill out the FAFSA, anyone accepted early decision has absolutely no idea how much aid they will receive. While early decision may be a wise choice for some, it is only right for certain situations, and each individual applicant must really think about this serious commitment.

When early decision is right for you:

  • First and foremost, you must be in love with this college and absolutely certain you would want to attend it. If you feel on the fence about it or also like another school, early decision is not the right choice for you.
  • If you and your family have determined that you will most likely not receive any financial aid and will not need any aid.
  • This is slightly more uncertain, but if you apply to a school that is known to have excellent financial aid that meets 100% of demonstrated need and has a large endowment, chances are your financial aid package will be generous enough to not cause too many problems. The only downfall of this is that you don’t have the opportunity to compare packages and possible merit-based scholarships from other schools.

When early decision is NOT right for you:

  • If, like mentioned above, you are even slightly uncertain about the school. This college must be perfect for you. Any hesitation may make you regret your choice come spring when your classmates are receiving acceptance letters and get to compare financial aid packages and choose their college.
  • If you know your family will definitely need generous financial aid to pay for college. While you are able to appeal for more aid, and if that fails you can technically withdraw your acceptance on the grounds that you haven’t received enough aid, it would be much easier and stress-free to simply not apply early decision. However, at a school like Swarthmore or Amherst, you can feel pretty confident that the expected aid that shows up in the Net Price Calculator calculations will be about what financial aid you’ll receive.

Early decision admission rates often are higher than regular decision rates. That is in part because colleges have an incentive to admit as many students through the ED process as possible as it boosts yield, a major factor in US News and World Report rankings. However, that can be due to a more qualified applicant pool than regular decision, and the fact that many recruited athletes apply early decision. While it can be a great opportunity for students who don’t have to worry about financial aid and are set on a particular school, it really isn’t for everyone. You are not missing out on anything, and will do just fine in regular admissions.

Any questions? Let us know in the comments.