Five Things You Should Know About Early Decision

Early Decision

It feels like every time I look at the calendar, more time has slipped by than I can truly comprehend. The last I checked, it should still be October, travel season should still be gearing up, and the rest of the Fall should be ahead of us. When it comes to current Whitman students, I’m sure the same thing can be said: “Are midterms seriously happening right now? There’s how much time left in the semester?!” I would warrant this goes double, maybe even triple for current high school students, and particularly for high school seniors. The difference here is that instead of being surprised by the sudden onset of midterms and looming finals (though those are there for high school students as well) the major question has to do with college applications.

“Applications are due when?!”

That’s right – the application season is officially kicking off in full force. Around the country, colleges are seeing more and more applications roll in as deadlines approach. On the high school side, teachers are being bombarded by requests for letters of recommendation (Pro Tip for students: ask for those in advance, not the week your application is due!), counselors are scrambling to keep up with their student’s colleges. Test scores are flying hither and thither, administrative staff are battening down the hatches as they prepare to calculate GPAs and process materials, and Admission Officers are prepping to read the multitude of applications set to flood in. It’s going to be a busy season, and honestly, I’m excited to see it arrive.

Many colleges offer a variety of deadlines, and Whitman is no different. As a Common Application school (if you don’t know what the Common Application is yet, you should check it out here) we utilize three separate deadlines for first year students. Here are the different submission dates we use:

  1. Early Decision 1: November 15th
  2. Regular Decision Application Fee Waiver Deadline: December 1st
  3. Early Decision 2: January 1st
  4. Regular Decision: January 15th

Each of these deadlines has some differences to them, but for now, I’d like to walk through the Early Decision application, since it’s not as well known to everyone out there. So, without further ado, here are 5 things you should know about Early Decision as it applies to most colleges in the US!


1) Early Decision is a binding agreement

What does this mean? Put simply, if you choose to apply Early Decision to a school, you sign something along with your application stating that should you be admitted, you will withdraw all other outstanding applications and attend that school. This is a decision colleges take seriously, and we ask that students do as well. While this is a lot of weight to put on an application agreement, meaning it’s not for everyone, some students find Early Decision attractive because…

2) Applying Early Decision means you will know where you are going earlier 

This one is pretty obvious, but is worth pointing out. With the earlier application deadlines comes a quicker turnaround time. This means that should you apply Early Decision, you will know much quicker where you will be attending. Stressed about the back end of your senior year? Want to make the waiting period shorter? Early Decision is great for taking the load off of those two major stress points. Our notification date (meaning the day we get back to you with our answer) is mid-December for Early Decision 1 and late January for Early Decision 2. Compare this to late March for Regular Decision and that’s a lot less time spent waiting on bated breath. Along with this comes another perk, which is…

3) Most schools admit higher percentages of students in Early Decision pools

This rule will vary slightly from school to school, but generally speaking applying Early Decision actually means that you have a slightly higher chance of being admitted than should you apply Regular Decision. This is the major trade-off for the binding nature of the agreement, and is a school’s way of acknowledging a student’s interest in them. Applying early is a commitment, and we want to make sure that’s worthwhile to you. Keep in mind that while these numbers aren’t hard and fast and do vary from year to year, in the past couple of years at Whitman our Early Decision rate of admission has hovered close to 70%. Compared to our 40% admission rate in Regular Decision, students applying early are getting a decent, though not huge boost to their chances. We are absolutely looking for strong profiles and performance, and the same selection criteria still applies for Early Decision, but due to the smaller number of applicants in those pools, we can take more of the applying students. This should not be the be all end all of why you choose a deadline, but should be a consideration for interested students.

4) Financial Aid policies are the same for Early Decision as Regular Decision

Something we get asked frequently when discussing Early Decision is “Will you give me less financial aid if I apply early?” This likely stems from the binding nature of the application, and the perception that offices have “got” the students already and thus don’t need to entice them. The truth, thankfully, couldn’t be farther from the perception. We treat all applicants the same in our process regardless of whether they apply early or at the Regular Decision deadline. This is true for Need-Based Aid, as well as for Merit-Based Aid. While you may see less Merit-Based Aid being given out in the Early Decision rounds, this actually doesn’t have anything to do with a choice on our parts, as much as it has to do with the overall academic profile of the different rounds. Early Decision on average has a lower academic profile, as we find many students who are passionate about Whitman but have lower academic profiles will apply at this deadline versus Regular Decision. Why? Go back and look at #3 on this list – we admit higher percentages in Early Decision, meaning we are able to be a bit more flexible with who we admit. Combine this with the idea that our policies are the same across the board, and when it comes to Merit-Based Aid you will see a lower percentage of merit scholarships given out. It’s not that we don’t need or want to give those scholarships out – it’s simply a reflection of the overall profile of the different pools. Speaking scholarships…

5) All of your Financial Aid information will come at the same time as your admission packet

Thinking about applying Early Decision but are worried about needing to make a final decision without having all of the necessary info? Don’t be. We will send our Financial Aid package along with your admission decision, so you will know what you are working with from the start. This is exactly the same as you will see for Regular Decision, and is related to the one opt-out for the Early Decision deadline. If it turns out the financial circumstances won’t work out or the scholarship amount offered isn’t enough to make Whitman work for your family, we totally understand, and won’t hold you to the binding agreement. Bear in mind both that we do still take the binding agreement seriously (this opt-out truly needs to be based on demonstrable concern) but also that this applies to a very small percentage of families. On the whole, Whitman’s financial aid packages are competitive enough to make Whitman very affordable by way of Merit and Need-Based grants, meaning we see very few Early Decision applicants opt out of the agreement.


And there you have it! The Early Decision agreement in a nutshell. If this sounds interesting to you, or if you know right now that Whitman or any other school is your top choice, I highly recommend the process, in part because I was an Early Decision student to Whitman. That said, Early Decision isn’t for everyone – you truly have to know this is where you want to go above all other schools, as is the case with any college offering Early Decision. My parting advice therefore (apart from check out all of the information needed to apply Early Decision here and here) is to think long and hard about where you want to go, what you want to do to get there, and what will work best for you as an individual. Every application deadline has its own merit, and while I’m a big fan of Early Decision, for some folks Regular Decision truly is the way to go. The choice, really, is up to every individual who decides to apply.

Regardless of all that, whether you apply early or not, whether you’re finishing your application or just starting it, I can say one thing for sure: we look forward to reading your application soon =)

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