December is National Early Decision Month, when high school seniors learn whether they got into their top choice, "ED" colleges.
The official party line about how Early Decision works goes a little somethin' like this:
There's only one problem with the above:
It's false. Fake news.
Here's the way things really work with Early Decision, just in case you never hear this from your guidance counselor (more on that below).
First, nothing and nobody can compel you to attend a college, no matter what box you checked on your college application.
Second, the Early Decision agreement is not binding, legally speaking. In this country, minors lack legal capacity to form a contract.
If this is surprising to you, you have plenty of company. I'd wager that 99% of guidance counselors and college advisors don't understand this.
In fact, many give completely opposite advice, like the college advisor at a private NYC high school who posted this:
The early decision application is a binding contract where, by signing the agreement, a student is committing to enroll at a first-choice institution if accepted and then withdraw all applications to other schools. Not only does the student sign the agreement, her parents and school counselor do as well. This is not a decision to be made lightly. A student should only apply ED if she is 100% certain that this school is her dream school and the best possible match for her.
Ooooo, the school counselor signs the agreement too? Jeepers, it must be important!
Pardonnez-moi, but please explain to me the legalities of a guidance counselor -- who most students barely know -- sticking their signature on a non-binding agreement.
(If you actually read the language, the counselor signs to indicate that she "advised" the student how ED works, not to somehow coerce them to attend a college they're having second thoughts about.)
Putting all that aside, if you read the Early Decision agreement (google it) you'll see, in plain English -- and not buried in a footnote -- that you have a "financial out."
Meaning, if you get in ED, but decide that your financial aid or scholarship offer is not adequate, you may be released from your fake ED obligation.
No harm, no foul.
And -- this is important to note -- there is no standard to meet in order to invoke this financial out.
You do not have to prove that "the award does not make attending that college possible." You are sole judge and jury of its adequacy or inadequacy.
That begs the question, why would you never hear this side of the story unless you stumbled across it, randomly on the internet?
The obvious answer: if you invoked your financial aid get out of jail free card. your high school counselor would most likely sh-t a brick, out of mortal fear that NEXT year's batch of kids applying to that college would be somehow tainted by your crime against humanity.
To which I say, "Tough taters!" Your duty of loyalty is to your family, not your high school or district.
Applying to college is stressful and anxiety-ridden enough, don't let anyone pressure or coerce you even more.
Note: For college advisor wannabees: I received a handful of emails from folks who missed last night's info-session on our College Guru Certification program, so I'm running an "encore" presentation tomorrow night. Here's where to sign up: