How Early Decision Can Affect Financial Aid | College Made Simple

Dear College Made Simple reader,

Listen to most college advice, and you’d think that early decision is a no-brainer.

After all, you’re increasing your odds of going to your dream school. You are potentially eliminating plenty of work applying to other schools. And you may also be eliminating a semester of worry.

There’s much more to it than that, though. You could get more… or you could get less. Applying early can greatly affect the amount of financial aid you’ll receive… and that can happen in a number of ways.

In today’s College Made Simple segment, we’ll explore the pros and cons of Early Decision…


How Early Decision Can Affect Financial Aid

First, the potential perils behind Early Decision…

1.If you’ve been accepted early decision, schools know that you are locked in to attending. That means they can offer you the bare minimum necessary – counting on your desire to go to that school canceling out any financial incentives.

True, you can turn down an early decision if the financial aid package isn’t large enough. But you might not find that out until after the deadline has passed at other schools – so you may get locked out of college altogether. And whatever deposit you submitted to hold your spot will be forfeited. In other words, almost all the power resides with the school.

2.There won’t be any bidding war for your attendance. No school will bid against itself. With regular decision, schools know that they have competition, so they will sometimes sweeten the pot. Even if strict internal rules dictate the amount of need-based or merit-based aid offered, there’s usually room to play with the grant-loan balance. Apply early decision, and that goes out the window.

3.There are no opportunities for leveraging. Early decision schools offer a take-it-or-leave-it package when you are accepted. There can be no going back and forth, asking for a bit more here or there, comparing one package with another and asking a school to match it. What you get is, by and large, what you get.

We shouldn’t think of early decision as an all-or-nothing proposition, though. For students concerned about financial aid, there can be advantages as well.

The Pluses of Early Decision

Schools have already counted you amongst next-year’s class – so they may be more flexible with offers than they first appear. You would need to play a game of chicken, but if a school legitimately thinks you’ll withdraw due to financial considerations, they may pull out all the stops to keep you in the fold. Nothing disturbs admissions offices more than an already-counted student dropping out.

Learn more on your financial aid situation here.

For students on the bubble, financial aid can be less of a factor during the early decision process. Again, schools prefer to have a rough head count going into regular decision – the firmer the incoming class is, the easier everything becomes. For that reason, they tend to accept a higher proportion of early decision applicants – and tend to look less at financial situations. When two students are alike, the tie often goes to the one that needs less financial aid. Apply early, and you aren’t subject to those bubble decisions.

As you can see, there are pros and cons to applying early. In addition, the rules differ at each school. Some, for instance, are need-blind for all applicants, so you won’t get any tie-break bump by applying early. Still others have very strict financial aid rules, to the point that all offers are take-it-or-leave-it, and identical for early decision and regular applicants.

Regardless, make sure you do your homework before applying. It might be a tremendous idea – or a bad one. Each situation will be different. Know your own.

In an upcoming installment of College Made Simple, we’ll explore the pros and cons of the Early Action option, in which you’re allowed to apply early elsewhere… and acceptance is non-binding.

To your family’s successful college planning,

Scott Weingold

Co-founder, College Planning Network LLC
Publisher, College Made Simple – The Free Educational Resource of College Planning Network, LLC


Related Articles:

How to Pick a College or University That’ll Give You the Best Financial Aid Package

When Should Seniors Apply for College?

Is Early Admission a Good Idea?



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Editor's Note: Scott Weingold has been ranked the #1 “College Financial Aid Expert Worth Knowing About” in the entire country by  He has co-authored the book, “The Real Secret To Paying For College. The Insider’s Guide To Sending Your Child To College – Without Spending Your Life’s Savings.” Scott also publishes a popular free online newsletter, “College Funding Made Simple" which reveals insider’s tips, methods, and strategies for beating the high cost of college.

Scott is the co-founder and a principal of the widely renown College Planning Network, LLC – the nation’s largest and most reputable college admissions and financial aid planning firm. CPN is a proud member of the Better Business Bureau, the National Association of College Funding Advisors, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Scott, along with his college funding advisory team, helps thousands of families throughout the country with their college planning needs and offers a series of free educational webinars and workshops on “How To Pay For College Without Going Broke In The Process!” He's been featured or mentioned in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Yahoo News,, Voice America with Ron Adams, Crains Cleveland Business, and on Cleveland Connection with James McIntyre.  Scott has published numerous articles and is a professional speaker who has addressed thousands of audiences online and offline throughout the United States.  His actionable insights and candid, open approach have earned him & his team numerous media interviews, citations, and speaking opportunities, and his free online video workshop is one of the Internet’s most widely viewed pieces in the college funding space.