Although early decision and early action are processes related to the college admission process, a brief overview is included here for informative purposes. The timing of these early admissions processes can affect financial aid considerations and the actual financial aid application process.
Early Decision is an admission process used by many undergraduate college admission offices. A candidate can apply to a college early (during the fall of senior year) and receive an early decision (typically by December of senior year); a candidate would apply for Early Decision if they consider the college to be his or her absolute top choice of college to attend. If a candidate is offered admission under an Early Decision program, that candidate must then withdraw all other applications to other colleges and agree to the binding commitment to enroll in the college that offered an early decision offer of admission.
Early Action programs are similar to Early Decision with regard to timing and process; however, Early Action programs are not binding. If a candidate is offered admission under an Early Action program, the candidate can continue to apply to other colleges and wait to make their college attendance decision after all admission acceptance letters are received.
So what do Early Decision and Early Action have to do with financial aid? There are a few important points to consider regarding these two early admission processes and their relationship to financial aid…
The financial aid application process may be different for a student applying under either Early Decision or Early Action. It is VERY important that if a student is applying via one of these early admission programs, that the student contact the Financial Aid Office in September of their senior year to inquire about this specific financial aid process. The college may require that the student complete the CSS Profile Form or an institutional financial aid application which will have earlier deadlines in the student’s senior year. Be sure to check with the college for requirements.
It is important to note that in most cases Early Decision candidates will not have finalized financial aid information available to them when receiving their Early Decision acceptance, due to the timing of the admissions offer, thus will have to make their binding admission decision without the benefit of financial aid specifics. However, after an aid offer is made, if a family finds that they cannot afford to attend that college, they can request a release from the binding offer of admission. In some cases, however, the timing may be such that it is later in the admissions/financial aid cycle, meaning that the student may have already missed the opportunity to apply to their other desired colleges.
Another consideration for Early Decision candidates is that they are unable to compare financial aid offers from different colleges since they can only apply to one college and are bound to enroll there, if admitted. In that situation, the student receives only one offer of financial aid, and will not have the benefit of comparing numerous offers and determining the best option from a financial standpoint.
Remember to file your FAFSA beginning in January of the year prior to your college enrollment.
For a great resource about financial aid and the college financing process, check out Financial Aid Sense. This newly updated publication will help families navigate through the often confusing college financing process. This financial aid book is a vital read for anyone needing to finance a college application.