College & Workforce Readiness

Weighing the Option of Applying to College Early Decision II

By Caralee J. Adams — November 30, 2011 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Decisions, decisions. Many high school seniors are inundated with them right now.

With transcript requests due this week, students need to finalize their list of colleges. For those with a strong favorite, there is the dilemma about whether to apply Early Decision II.

A quick review of the terms:

Early Decision I - Students apply to one top-choice school in the fall and, if chosen, enter into a binding agreement to attend.

Early Action - Students send in their applications ahead of the normal deadline, and colleges let them know early if they are accepted, but the student does not have to decide until the spring to commit or not.

Early Decision II - Students apply to one top-choice school by Jan. 1, and like Early Decision I, are committed to attend if selected.

At this point in the fall, the first two options have passed, so the issue is whether to enter the ED II process, So, who’s offering ED II, and when is it the right decision? I spoke with Sally Rubenstone, senior adviser for College Confidential for some insights.

Although the option has been around for awhile, ED II has gained popularity among schools in the past five years or so, says Rubenstone. Of the 456 Common App colleges, about 15 percent offer ED II. It’s prevalent among the better-known liberal arts colleges, including Swarthmore, Bowdoin, Middlebury, and Tufts and a number of smaller private universities, such as Brandeis, Vanderbilt, Emory, Carnegie Mellon, and Wesleyan. ED II is not offered at any of the Ivies or Johns Hopkins, Washington University, Rice, Amherst, Williams, or Wellesley.

According to Rubenstone, ED II is a good option for seniors who:
-Need more time for college searching or application completion than a November deadline allowed;
-Were disappointed with junior grades and want colleges to see one and maybe even two senior quarters before applying; or
-Couldn’t complete required testing by November or who want to try again.

Many students who Rubenstone works with opt for what she’s dubbed the “ED I, ED II Skidoo.” This is where a student applies to a top-choice college in the first Early Decision round. Then, if the student is rejected outright, or, often, even if deferred, he or she takes a shot at a second-choice college. The ED II school should be slightly less selective than the first one in the ED II round, she advises. “This can be a wise strategy, especially if the ED II college is really a close second in the student’s heart,” she says. “Applying early—whether in November or January—usually provides a significant admissions-odds boost.”

Students must remember that by applying early in either round, they are making a binding commitment. If the school doesn’t offer enough financial aid to allow them to attend, however, students can back out of the decision without penalty. Rubenstone cautions students applying early who need financial assistance that they may not get the best possible financial-aid package from an ED school, so they should come up with a number in advance that they need. If the college says yes in an ED round and is able to meet that amount, the student should feel honor-bound to accept the offer, even if it means not sticking around until April to see if some other college might have awarded more, she says.

For students, the advantage of applying Early Decision I in the fall is that they hear back from their top-choice school early enough that they don’t have to spend time filling out other applications. That’s not the case with ED II. The deadline is Jan. 1, along with all the others—removing the allure of sending in one solid early application and saving time on others. Still, Rubenstone says, if students have a strong preference for one school, it can be a good strategy that improves your admissions chances.

For schools, having another round that attracts students with a strong interest in their program will likely lead to higher yields and a more committed freshman class. Some colleges pass, however, on the process because it’s another layer of work for their already maxed out admission office.

Perhaps, the enrollment practice will gain momentum in light of research, like I wrote about in yesterday’s post, that links early decision and early action choices with improved college-completion rates.

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, last year Early Decision activity declined while Early Action grew. Only 38 percent of colleges with ED policies reported increases in the number of students accepted through Early Decision for fall 2010, down from the previous three years when about half of colleges reported increases. Another 36 percent reported increases in ED admissions, compared with 65 percent in 2009 and 43 percent in 2008. However, 72 percent of colleges with Early Action policies reported increases in EA applications, and 68 percent reported more EA admissions.

A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

College & Workforce Readiness Opinion Can College-Going Be Less Risky Without Being 'Free'?
Rick Hess speaks with Peter Samuelson, president of Ardeo Education Solutions, about Ardeo's approach to make paying for college less risky.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion What Will It Take to Get High School Students Back on Track?
Three proven strategies can support high school graduation and postsecondary success—during and after the pandemic.
Robert Balfanz
5 min read
Conceptual illustration of students making choices based on guidance.
Viktoria Kurpas/iStock
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion An Economist Explains How to Make College Pay
Rick Hess speaks with Beth Akers about practical advice regarding how to choose a college, what to study, and how to pay for it.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness What the Research Says College Enrollment Dip Hits Students of Color the Hardest
The pandemic led to a precipitous decline in enrollment for two-year schools, while four-year colleges and universities held steady.
3 min read
Conceptual image of blocks moving forward, and one moving backward.