Early Action and Early Decision programs continue to be a popular college admissions option, especially among high school students who are applying to competitive colleges and universities. Applicants realize that, at some schools, their chances of being accepted are better if they apply under the early deadline.

However, applicants need to consider another important aspect of college planning as they decide whether to use the early admissions option: financial aid.

“Schools will tell you they treat everyone the same, but I suspect that on occasion there are some regular decision applicants who might get a ‘sweeter package’ of financial aid – meaning ‘more grant and less loan,’ for example,” says Senior Consultant Dr. Cleo Leung.

This is especially true of schools with binding Early Decision (ED) programs. Students accepted under binding ED programs can’t receive or compare competing aid offers. They’re not even supposed to continue pursuing admission to other schools.

The situation is less daunting at schools that have non-binding Early Action (EA) programs. Students accepted under a non-binding EA program can still apply to other schools under regular admissions deadlines and then compare financial aid packages.

“By far, though, the majority of early admission programs are binding ED programs,” Cleo says. Applicants should make absolutely sure that they understand what kind of program they are applying through.

“The bottom line on Early Decision and financial aid is this: if finances are the primary concern in the college admission process, students should apply regular decision to a variety of schools so that they can compare aid packages,” Cleo advises.

“However, if their primary concern is that they want to go to College X no matter what, then they should apply ED and do whatever it takes to enroll if admitted.”

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