Early Decision – Friend Or Foe?

Dear Subscriber –

I was reviewing the latest admissions stats for the class of 2012 (College Class of 2016) the other day.

It’s tough to discern a trend, because some Ivies continue to see small increases in Early Decision applications (Brown, Dartmouth reported higher Early Decision numbers), while others showed decreases (Columbia, Cornell, Penn reported slightly lower amounts of Early Decision applicants).

Overall admissions rates are slightly down across the board at the Ivies compared to last year (Brown is slightly higher this year – 9.6%, compared to the Class of 2015 – 8.91%.  Cornell dropped more than 1% (16.19% compared ot 17.97%), as did Dartmouth, Harvard, Pen, Princeton and Yale.

Non-Ivy, but competitive colleges, also saw drops in acceptance rate overall:  Duke admitted 11.87% this year compared to 13.99% for the Class of 2015.  Emory, Johns Hopkins, Tufts, UNC, Vanderbilt and UVA were all harder to get into this year compared to last.

Taking a step back, it’s incontrovertible that chances of admission are much higher if you apply Early Decision.  Sometimes double or triple.

But is that the right move when you want financial aid?

Most colleges will tell you that one has nothing to do with the other.  In other words, each applicant will receive a full and fair financial aid offer, without regard to whether he applied Early Decision or regular decision.

My opinion?

This is a load of horse poop.

Every year, I sort through dozens of “low-ball” financial aid offers that somehow, magically, improve after we appeal and negotiate them.  I recently wrote about an extra $30,022 – for one year – that Rick, a client, received from a top college. 

Let me assure you, one of the key reasons we succeeded is because his daughter applied to a competitor college – i.e. a college that historically competes with their top choice college – and received a better financial aid offer from it. We played the two colleges off against each other.  30 days later – presto – Rick pockets an extra 30G’s in addition to their already substantial award – and now he doesn’t have to break the heart of his daughter who thought she wouldn’t be able to attend her dream college.

Because Early Decision is binding, you have zero ability to negotiate your award. Yes, there’s a “financial ‘out'”  – but even if you invoke it, you won’t have financial aid awards from competing schools to show your top choice college.

Can you improve a financial aid award from a school that accepted you ED?  Yes – but in my admittedly anecdotal experience, it’s really, really hard to do. I’ve had decent experiences with some colleges,
but by no means the majority of them.

Common sense supports me here too.  If you believe that colleges are businesses (gasp!), and businesses want more, not less of your money…what is an ED college’s incentive to lure you there if you have no other choices?

Bottom line – be very careful about applying ED if you need financial aid.  If little Carly or Brandon puts up a fuss, at least ask to tell you exactly why their dream school achieved that status.

If you get a good answer (other than “it just felt right the minute I got there,” etc.), email it to me! In my experience, a Plan B college is almost always at least as good – if not better  – than your dream school.

Sorry to rain on anyone’s parade.

Your “Dean of Harsh Reality,”

– Andy Lockwood

P.S.  I’m running a couple of Saturday, online workshops on financial aid strategies.  If you or a friend is uptight and confused about how you’ll afford college – and how your child will get in…I urge you to tune in!  Share this e-mail!


My web service limits the amount of virtual seats I get, so register now so you don’t get closed out!

Andrew Lockwood, J.D.
Lockwood College Consulting
497 South Oyster Bay Road
Plainview, New York 11803