Early Decision Is Unethical

Since the 2019-2020 school year, the number of college applications has risen by 22%, according to Forbes magazine. With an influx of applications, acceptance rates have dropped, as there is a concrete number of seats for a growing number of contenders. With a more competitive application pool, many students have turned to an alternative application choice to improve their odds: early decision. An early decision (ED) application is when students are legally bound to attend their chosen school if accepted. While ED applications may greatly improve a student’s chances of getting into their dream school, they put lower-income students at a severe disadvantage because they do not have the luxury of committing to paying tuition upon acceptance. Often, these students need to compare scholarships and grants from various institutions in order to find the most affordable option. Therefore, the ED process is entirely unethical and should be banned. 

Applying ED can increase a student’s chances of being admitted to an institution by a significant amount. At schools such as Grinnell College and Bates College, where the acceptance rate is approximately 15% for the regular pool of applications, the early decision pool has an acceptance advantage of about 35% more. In the 2021-2022 application pool, ED applicants at Grinnell had a 65% admittance and students at Bates College had a 46% admittance. More highly selective schools like Columbia University and Princeton University carry a usual 5% acceptance rate in their regular pool, but their early decision rate is doubled, at around 10%. Choosing the ED path can seem like a no-brainer to many students who desire to attend a top  university.

When one applies to a school with an ED application, he or she is legally bound to attend the university if accepted. In this case, students are mandated to attend no matter how much money they receive in scholarships or financial aid. They do not have a period in which they are able to weigh their financial aid amount from various schools and instead are legally obligated to attend their ED school. Thus, it creates an advantage for students who can afford the usually high tuition of many universities, some of which span more than an annual $70,000. Although many colleges and top-tier universities claim that they provide full “need-based” aid, measured by one’s expected family contribution (EFC) through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), many families still cannot afford the tuition, even after their loans and grants. When students apply for regular decision, or non-binding early action, they can weigh all their financial aid packages from different universities; many students, in this case, typically choose the school which provides them with the smallest financial burden. This leaves students whose families do not have adequate finances to pay for tuition unable to choose the ED option. 

Many argue that ED is only another level of demonstrated interest and does not leave students who choose this application at a severe advantage, but rather gives them the acceptance rate that models their interest and dedication to the school. According to Ron Leiber of The New York Times, if an early decision student receives a drastically different financial aid package than the school’s online estimated price calculator, they can “negotiate with the financial aid office to receive a more realistic amount.” Yes, early decision shows admissions officers that the student is fully wishing to attend the university if accepted. However, it is still unfair that some do not have the resources to choose this option, even if they meet the qualifications to attend a top-choice institution. While Leiber does state that financial aid packages can sometimes be adjusted for an early decision student, he still claims that the process favors “financially elite” applicants. Finally, while a student is technically able to withdraw an ED application if they are unable to pay tuition, it is an extremely difficult and extensive legal process. 

Some states like New York are discussing whether the early decision process should even be legal. Earlier this year in March, a bill was proposed that would fine all colleges in New York State, public and private, who accepted ED applications. If an institution violated this law, a tenth of the revenue generated by freshman tuition from the year prior would be given to low-income students through scholarship opportunities and financial aid. New York State Senator Andrew Gournardes, agreeing with this proposal, said that a student’s acceptance “should be a matter of ability and hard work.” In upcoming years, highly selective institutions should expect a pushback against their early decision admissions; in just a few years, this unfair method may not be an option for students.