To ED or not to ED? That is the question that millions of high school seniors face when applying for college.

Early Decision – aka ED – refers to the type of application that allows prospective students to apply ahead of other applicants to the college of their dreams. It’s also a signal to colleges that you are serious about their school because if accepted, then the offer is binding, and you must withdraw your applications to other schools. So, the question is: If you know where you want to go, should you lock yourself into early decision, or play the field?

While there are pros and cons to both, it helps to think about what you expect from your senior year and your college experience.

Upping the Odds

Applying for college can be both exciting and one big stress ball that can go on for months. So if you already know what your dream school is and want to get the whole process over as soon as possible, then early decision is for you. According to Sally Rubenstone, senior adviser at, one advantage is that early decision acceptance rates tend to be higher than during the regular-decision period.

As senior year went on, my interests and social life continued to change, but I was committed to a college I had chosen in the beginning of the year.


Jane Behre, who graduated from Barnard College in 2017, applied early decision because she fell in love with the school on her first visit and wanted to boost her chances of being accepted. The bonus – since Behre’s acceptance arrived in early December, she was able to enjoy the rest of her senior year. “While my friends were stressing in the spring about where they would go, I was stress-free because I already knew,” she says.

Second Thoughts

For some students, nailing their school down months in advance isn’t necessarily a good thing. Katie Ziegler applied early decision to Bates College because the school — one of her top choices — seemed to offer decent financial aid, and she wanted to maximize her chances of getting in. But after Ziegler was accepted, she had second thoughts. “As senior year went on, my interests and social life continued to change, but I was committed to a college I had chosen in the beginning of the year,” she says.

Ziegler wasn’t alone. Her friends who also applied early decision had similar reactions. “I think the security it offers means a lot of students feel pressured … to maximize their chances of getting into a school, even if it’s not their dream school,” she explains.

The Financial Aid Question

One of the biggest downsides of early decision is that you won’t be able to compare financial aid packages from different schools, which puts a lot of families at a disadvantage. Since you’re applying to one school, you only get one package, and it’s pretty much a take-it-or-leave-it situation. While it is possible to back out of Early Decision if the financial aid package isn’t enough, it could leave some students struggling to get accepted elsewhere. Application deadlines for regular admission range from December to January for most schools, so students could be scrambling to submit applications on time. To be safe, students should have applications ready to submit in the event that they aren’t accepted or need to rescind admission for early decision.

Weighing Your Options

Early decision or not, students and advisers stress that you be realistic about your chances of getting into a particular school. “There are plenty of kids who apply early decision to an Ivy League school who are rejected and then wish they’d aimed for a more realistic option,” says Rubenstone.

And if you tend to second-guess your decisions, the unanswered questions that early decision present will probably not help. Would I have been accepted by other schools I was researching? Would I have been accepted during the regular admissions period? With early decision, there’s no way of knowing.

What-if scenarios can linger even after you start college. Like many students, Ziegler encountered numerous obstacles adjusting to her first year. “Every time I faced a challenge, I wondered what would have happened if I was able to choose a different school,” she says. But by her second semester of freshman year, Ziegler was happy with her choice. She made friends and settled into her classes and activities.

So if attending your dream school is more important, go for early decision. If financial aid is your primary concern, then regular decision may be a safer bet. “Such musings aren’t unique to early decision,” says Rubenstone. “Any time a student makes a final college choice, it’s almost impossible not to think — at least fleetingly — about what making a different choice might have led to.”

At the end of the day, you can only act on the information you have at hand. So don’t let the decision scare you. Write out the pros and cons, and let your intuition guide you to what feels like the right thing to do.