What Happens if You Back Out of Early Decision?

Flickr user Kevin Dooley

If you applied for early decision and are having second thoughts or something major is going on in your life, you may be worried about backing out of the contract. Here’s what may happen if you decide not to accept your early decision offer.

Nothing, If You Back Out With Good Reason

If you have a good reason for backing out of an early decision offer from a college, the school will often let you leave without penalty. A common reason for being released from the offer is due to finances. Sometimes a student won’t receive the financial aid package or grants they need and therefore can’t afford to attend the school.

Other excuses that are considered to be “good reason” are a sick parent or family member, a serious health issue, an accident, or something similar.

There May Be Consequences If You Don’t Have Good Reason

Each school is different on how they view the early decision, but students should understand that it is binding. Some colleges will understand and let you off the hook if you say “I’m sorry but this college is not for me like I thought it was.” However, not all colleges view early decision in this way.

Early decision is considered an honor bound agreement and not a legal document. However, you do sign an agreement stating that you will attend the school if you are accepted. There are several things that can happen if you don’t attend after you’ve been accepted.

High School is Informed

Your high school is often part of the early decision application process. They sometimes sign off on your early decision application and you backing out could jeopardize future students’ early decision chances if they apply to the same college. In some cases, your high school counselor may turn around and tell the other colleges you applied to the situation, hurting your own acceptance chances.

It’s important to note that some high schools won’t even send your transcript or other information to any colleges after you’ve already applied under early decision to one school.

Offers are Rescinded If You Applied in Bad Faith or to Two or More Schools

Some students will actually apply to two or more schools under early decision, but run into a problem when they’re accepted at both. If you decline one and the college finds out about your other early decision application, you may find that they talk to one another and your offer is rescinded from both schools.

In the same vein, many colleges share “lists” of the students applying under early decision with one another. If you apply to two schools under early decision that share these lists, you often will not be accepted to either one. College application departments are also tipped off by guidance counselors, alumni, and even classmates.

A Deposit Was Required

Some schools actually require a deposit with your early decision application. You probably won’t be getting this returned if you back out of an early decision offer without a good reason.

Backing out of an early decision offer could have severe consequences for your future, if your reason isn’t about your health or finances. If you are considering backing out of early decision, it helps to do your research, but remember this is an honor bound agreement. Do not apply for early decision lightheartedly because it could come back to haunt your other college applications and the rest of your academic career.

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Hilary Cairns

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