There was recently a post by an education firm that seemed to take a rather cavalier attitude toward early decision agreements for universities in the US.
First of all, what is early decision (ED) as compared Early Action (EA)? The main difference is that ED is a contract between the student, his parents, the school that student attends and the school to which they are applying. The purpose and point of the contract is that a student agrees that admission is binding and the student will commit to attending that school. Further, the fact that the student, the parents and the school counselor sign the ED Agreement is so that everyone is aware of and understands what the contract states and further that the family has considered all the issues related to applying under such conditions, including financial obligations. Students may only apply to one school ED. It should be very clear to all involved that this is not an agreement to take lightly or to use as a way to game the system or weigh ones chances versus another college. Finally, a student must withdraw all other applications if made and may not apply to any other schools. They are done and in to their first choice school.
Early Action on the other hand is not as rigid. It is basically an early application so that a student may know early in the admission process that they have a school in their pocket. Some schools do have a slightly more rigid Early Action program called Single Choice EA. Under this application students may only apply to this type of school early i.e. no ED and no other EA applications may be submitted. This choice is so that the student may know early and be able to make choosing this school with out conflict with other early applications. Schools like Stanford and Georgetown have this option.
Back to the post about ED. The point that it seemed to be making was that there really was no repercussion if a student decides not to attend if accepted. The article points out that there are no legal repercussions and that the contract is more like a “Gentlemen’s agreement.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s break this down a bit further. Choosing a school ED is something that should come from a students research. They should, by choosing a school ED, have concluded that this school is: 1. The Best School for them 2. The school has everything they need and want from a school – including location, size and academic programming. The fact that three different people sign the agreement should indicate that this is the family’s First Choice – there are no other schools that come close to fitting the student and that of course, if admitted they will attend if accepted. Basically, there should be no reason at all to second guess this decision.
Furthermore, the college counselor is directly involved in the process of this type of application and by virtue, the school that the student attends is part of this choice. Basically, there are a lot of people, not just the student, in completing this agreement. If the college counselor is doing their job correctly, they will have advised the student along the way, agreed that this school is a good choice for ED AND explained the language of ED to the student.
So what happens if a student reneges on the ED decision? As was stated in the article, schools talk to one another, particularly in the early process. If a student backs out of the commitment, that college may inform other schools that the student has applied ED. There are two reasons for this – 1. to check that the student has not applied anywhere else ED. 2. to basically have dibs on that student early in the admission process. But in the event that the student backs out, to inform other schools that this student has not lived up to the binding agreement and beware.
Further, while not committing may have little or no repercussions on the student other than they may not get in anywhere else, opting out affects their current school. The ramifications may be felt for years to come and it would be doubtful if any student ever got in to that school in the future. The school has basically been blacklisted into the future. Oh, and the same could be said for the college counselor.
While it is true that a university cannot force a student to come, there are a number of people affected by one student’s poor decision. But one may ask if there are any conditions where it may be ok to not accept an ED offer? Not really. As I jokingly tell my students, the only possible reason is because you’re no longer alive. Beyond that, there really is not a reason. Not because your SAT scores went up in December, not because you’ve decided it is not the school for you – that should have been figured out long, long before.
Often students, particularly international students forget that applying to and attending school in the US is not a right, but a privilege. Being accepted to any school should be viewed as an honor and nothing less. It is exceedingly distasteful that some students try to game the system and forget the seriousness of what applying to university actually means. All too often admission feels like it is a mission to collect acceptances and fully consider that other people are involved in arriving at an “admit” decision – other students for whom that school actually was their dream school, the admission committee, their school, their counselor and finally their own reputation.
Applying ED is an adult decision, not a willy-nilly I think I just apply ED to see if I can get in. In fact, applying to college is an adult decision, so students please take responsibility for your choices.