Preparing for College

What is Early Decison II? Is it Ethical? How about Wise?

Question: At the gym yesterday, another mother on the adjacent Stairmaster told me that her daughter is going to apply Early Decision to her first-choice college this fall, but--if she's deferred--she'll apply to another college (presumably her second choice) during an "ED II round." If admitted, she won't wait to find out if the first college will take her in the spring. What is an ED II round? Is this permissible? Is this wise? Should I be looking into this for my own daughter, or should I just stay off the Stairmaster instead?

A growing number of colleges, particularly liberal arts schools, are offering two chances for students to apply Early Decision. The first round typically has a November deadline, and the second round will probably have a deadline in January (though these vary).


Both rounds are usually identical except for their deadlines. The advantage of the first round, however, is that ED I students admitted in December don't have to complete other applications (although it can be wise to apply to Rolling Admissions schools while they wait). Those who apply ED II won't get a verdict until many regular-decision deadlines have passed.

Increasingly, I've seen high school seniors take the ED I/II combo route that you describe. They will apply to their first-choice college in November, and then, if deferred in December, will apply ED II to another college---generally one that is just slightly less selective. Some of these one-two punches in my orbit in recent years have included Dartmouth/Colgate; Middlebury/Bates; Middlebury/Hamilton; U. of Richmond/Hobart; Washington U. in St. Louis/Emory. In each case, the applicant was deferred in the ED I round by the first college and admitted in the ED II round by the second school.

I suspect that the colleges that offer ED II often do so because they realize that they will snare some strong candidates who decide to opt for this approach--those who might have just missed getting good news from a somewhat more selective institution. Also, by offering a second round of ED, colleges attract applicants who weren't quite ready to commit by November but who later decide that they're more than ready to make a pledge to enroll in exchange for putting the admissions maze behind them.

Is this permissible? Yep, this approach is completely legit. Once an ED I student has been deferred, the "binding" Early Decision commitment vaporizes, and that student is now free to go elsewhere.

Is this wise? It depends on your child. If one college is truly a dream school but says "No" in December, will your daughter ever sleep again at night if she doesn't play out the string and wait for gladder tidings in April? Conversely, if she's been wavering between a couple top-choice colleges all along, with one slightly more competitive than the other, and with the second school offering ED II, then she may prefer to give herself the ED advantage at this second school, if the first one defers her. As you probably know, applying Early Decision does give students a bit of an admissions-odds boost at most colleges. Admission folks are usually willing to lock in strong-but-not-spectacular candidates whom they know will show up in September.

As you may also know, there can be some financial disadvantages to applying ED in any round because an affirmative decision will eliminate your chance to compare multiple aid packages. But, on the other hand, if an ED school does not offer reasonable aid, then it's okay to wheedle out of the so-called "binding" commitment.

Even if your daughter does not want to try the ED I/ED II strategy (or it doesn't work for the schools that most interest her), I think that it's still worthwhile for you to be aware of this option and to know that there are others who choose it. Thus, you can't use this new information as an excuse to stay out of the gym. :-)

Good luck to you, whatever path your daughter takes.