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Is early decision right for your student?

September and October are extremely busy for families with kids. Not only do children return to school, but college admissions season begins for 12th grade students. There are essays to write, recommendation letters to request, transcripts to polish and important decisions to be made — when will your student apply, for instance? By January or February, under regular admissions, or by November, under early decision? Is the binding early decision option even right for your child? If you are considering early decision applications, consider these three questions before your student sends in his application.

1. Is your child unwaveringly committed to a single college?

Senior year is long, and how your student feels about a school in September might not be true in June. Unfortunately, few colleges and universities will accept “I changed my mind” as a valid reason to break an early decision agreement. It is critical your child have no shadow of a doubt about an early decision school choice. Does it offer well-respected majors in his fields of interest? Can your student see herself in the dorms? Are there academic and socioemotional support services in place, as well as extracurriculars that appeal to him? Avoid applying to a college for its name or prestige alone.

2. Will early decision offer a marked admissions advantage?

Early decision is popular for a very good reason — an increased likelihood of acceptance. Some schools report acceptance rates five to 15 percent higher during the early decision cycle, but these numbers vary from college to college. Once your child identifies her first choice school, examine its general admissions criteria, as well as its early decision statistics. Does your student barely meet the college’s average GPA and SAT score? Is he just below the average? Would applying under early decision thus benefit him? If your child would likely receive an offer of admission during the regular admissions cycle, waiting may be the best option.

3. Can you and/or your student afford the cost of attendance?

If your child chooses to submit an early decision application, she will not be able to compare financial aid offers from multiple colleges. If assistance in the form of grants or scholarships is a primary concern for your family, the regular admissions cycle may be a better option for your student. He can still apply to his dream school, but with the added advantage of time to seek outside funding and the ability to weigh various aid packages. If your child applies under early decision, and you later realize that the financial burden is too great, you can break an early decision agreement due to an inability to meet the cost of attendance. However, this should only be used as a last resort.

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