Early decision deadlines looming: Students weigh their options


November marks the time when students rush to submit their early action and early decision applications for college. At Berkeley High School, seniors applying to college consider a myriad of financial and personal factors as they navigate the application process.

While both early action and early decision require an early submission, the two are very different. Early action is a non-binding early application process. Early decision is a binding early application, where students pick one school and must attend if they get in. An early decision application may give students as much as a 61 percent higher chance of getting into their dream school, according to Forbes. 

For some, applying early action can alleviate application-related stress and provide extra time to decide on a university. 

“I’ve already been accepted to two of the schools I applied early action for,” said Darby Curran, a senior in Berkeley International High School. “Hearing back early can give you good time to start your decision process.” 

Curran emphasized that while she applied early decision, it is not the best choice for every student. 

“You have to be set on going to that school,” said Curran. “This is where the financially inequitable part can come in, because you have to be set on going there. Even if they give you no scholarship, no financial aid, you still have to go there. Not everyone can because some people have to rely on the amount of money that you’re gonna get from the university.” 

In the past decades, college tuition has become increasingly more expensive. Between 2000-2021, average tuition fees have jumped 69 percent, from $8,082 to $13,677. Financial aid may have a significant  impact on where students attend college. In the early decision agreement, students are unable to compare financial aid opportunities from other schools that they get into. This means that students who heavily depend on financial aid may not be able to take the risk of applying early. 

“Early decision is an option for students who feel like their application is set up from the very beginning or at least is already very polished by the time that the deadline comes up,” said Yasmin Navarro, a college counselor at the BHS College and Career Center. “It’s one of those things where it’s like every student’s college journey is different. For some, an early decision is the right choice, if they have a polished application, if their family can afford the application fees, and if they can afford the school.”

Early decision is most popular in the most selective schools, with acceptance rates of below 10 percent. A recent study from the Harvard-based research group found that students from higher-income backgrounds are more likely to apply early to highly selective and Ivy League schools. 

Bennet Barahona, a BHS senior, considered a lot of factors when applying. He did not apply early decision, but applied early action to several of his top schools. He said that finances weren’t at the top of his worries, but that he could see how it could impact others. 

“For me, it wasn’t that big of a deal. I feel lucky,” said Barahona. “But for other people, it definitely could be and so it might take more time for people to get their money for those application fees. So they might not be able to meet the (application) deadline.” 

Application fees are part of the process, and applying to a lot of schools early could be tricky for students who may need more time to pay for them. 

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that early decision is a requirement or something that I would push every student to do, but it is the right option for some students,”  Navarro said. “And so like if you are throwing your one Hail Mary at a 6 percent school. Could you have used that money for something else? Highly likely.”