Early decision is a legally binding commitment, meaning students must withdraw their applications to all other schools if accepted. There are penalties for withdrawing, so Early Decision is only for students who are certain about wanting to attend a specific school. Admitting early decision applicants benefits schools because there is a high probability that the admitted applicants will attend. In addition, early decision helps the college admissions offices distribute the job of sifting applications throughout more of the school year. Thus, applying via Early Decision carries a greater chance of receiving an acceptance letter, almost 15% higher than regular decision applicants. One drawback is that early decision is essentially ‘applying blind’ as regards the amount of financial aid that you might receive.
Early Action vs. Early Decision
About 50% of all colleges use a waiting list, particularly selective schools accepting less than half of applicants. Colleges use wait lists as a hedge to make sure they have enough students in the fall, and some schools purposely select fewer applicants during regular admissions to appear highly selective, and then do an about-face and accept students from waiting lists later. Recently, Stanford and Yale wait-listed approximately 1,000 students while Duke wait-listed nearly three times that many. 30% of wait-listed students are eventually accepted, and wait-lists are becoming more common. Students who are wait-listed need to stay in touch with the admissions office, to declare that they will attend if ultimately accepted.