What If You Change Your Mind On An Early Decision School?

Princeton University where many student apply early decision to

Flickr user denisbin

If you’re set on a specific dream school, you may be considering to apply through the early decision program. But what happens if you were accepted and, after a few visits, you don’t like the school anymore? Can you back out? Here’s what you need to know about early decision and what could happen if you break the agreement.

What is Early Decision?

Early decision is generally a few months prior to the regular application period. This is reserved for students who are positive this is the college for them. It lets the school know you’re serious about attending.

This application process is considered binding and you’re asked not to apply to any other colleges at any point. If you’re accepted under early decision, it is expected that you attend the school the following fall.

You Can Change Your Mind…

While schools advertise that the early decision is binding and you must attend, it is technically possible for you to change your mind. The agreement is based on honor. Simply saying, “I don’t want to go anymore.” can reflect poorly on your character.

However, you should note that colleges will take individual situations into account. If you find yourself unable to attend the college you were accepted to due to financial strain, your school will usually let you back out of the deal.

If you’re completely able to pay tuition though and don’t have other extenuating circumstances, it’s important to understand what can happen if you don’t attend after you promised to.

…But There May Be Repercussions

While a college you spurned won’t usually go after you legally, you could be hurt in other ways academically. For example, some groups of colleges “talk” and you could be barred from attending these schools if it is discovered you backed out of an early decision acceptance. This could block you from going to a college you actually liked after visiting the campus. This can also occur if you tried to apply under two different early decisions and result in rejected applications.

It also reflects poorly on your high school. Colleges often have well established relationships with guidance counselors and rescinding on an early decision offer looks bad on you and your high school. It can severely damage future relations and even hurt other students’ chances of getting accepted through early decision.

Only Apply Early Decision If…

It’s always best to only apply to a college through the early decision window if you are 110% certain you want to attend a specific school. You should only make this decision after you’ve done extensive research into the college, the town, and curriculum. You will also have wanted to visit the campus a few times to ensure it is the right fit. Knowing ahead of time can save you (and potentially your high school counselor) a lot of headaches and worry. While you absolutely do have the option to back out of this binding agreement, it does put you in a bad light. If you’re not sure the college is for you, apply during the regular application process instead.

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Hilary Cairns

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