Hajin Cho / Gavel Media

Is Early Decision Really Ethical?

**Note: The author of this piece was accepted to Boston College's Class of 2025 via Early Decision I in December 2020. 

With the first and second rounds of Early Decision complete, the Boston College Class of 2026 is now 50% full. The combined acceptance rate for these two rounds of admission was 28%. However, the acceptance rate for Regular Decision is expected to come out somewhere in the teens. Because of this vast discrepancy in acceptance rates, Early Decision has fallen under scrutiny in the past few years. However, it’s a fixture of BC undergraduate admissions—the Class of 2025 was filled 49% through ED I and II, with an acceptance rate of 39% compared to 17% for Regular Admission. So, why is ED necessary, if it is at all? Who does it help, and who does it harm? And most importantly, should Boston College continue to include Early Decision as an option for prospective students in years to come?

One of the biggest reasons to support Early Decision is its ability to allow applicants to demonstrate their intention to attend an institution. BC claims not to measure demonstrated interest in admissions, meaning that they do not track whether or not an applicant takes a campus tour, follows the school on social media, or attends meetings for prospective students. Therefore, the only way they can communicate to admissions staff that Boston College is their first choice school is by applying Early Decision. 

In addition to that, Early Decision has the potential to alleviate stress for high school seniors struggling with the college application process. Early Decision I acceptances have been released in early December for the past two years—several months before an applicant can expect to hear back from any other institution. Should they be accepted by their first choice school, applicants save precious time and money on dozens of other applications.

Boston College claims to be one of less than 20 universities that meet both 100% of an applicant's demonstrated need and are completely need blind. This means that a student’s ability to pay for college is never a factor in the decision of whether or not to admit them. Therefore, Early Decision applicants can rest assured that BC will ensure that their college education is financed in full without it affecting their ability to be accepted into the university.

Despite these reasons in support of it, ED is still an extremely contentious practice, the biggest reason being its inaccessibility to lower income families. Students who commit to a binding acceptance have no liberty to compare financial aid between schools. For many families, financial support is the number one factor when it comes to picking a school, and while BC promises to meet all demonstrated need, another school might be more generous with their aid. Students who commit to ED will never know if they would have gotten into the honors program at another university or received a scholarship elsewhere. Therefore, ED is only accessible to already well-off students.

The acceptance rate for Early Decision applicants is obviously much higher than it is for Regular Decision applicants. This, coupled with BC’s decision to allow students to apply test-optional for the classes of ‘25 and ‘26, leads to perhaps under-qualified applicants to be accepted when they otherwise would not have been. Because roughly 50% of class spots are filled via ED, that leaves fewer spots available for RD. This leads to more accomplished applicants getting rejected simply because they didn’t have the means to apply early. As stated prior, Early Decision is only available to comfortable families, so the people getting rejected are more likely to be students in need. 

There’s also the ethical ramifications of asking 17- and 18-year-old high school students to make a binding commitment to a school. When applying early, students are required to make a non-negotiable commitment, and for some while they are still minors. During the pandemic, many students were unable to go on campus tours, so they were forced to promise themselves to a school they had never even visited. In short, Early Decision takes away a student’s ability to weigh their options and choose the school that fits them best. In addition, the higher acceptance rates for ED end up pressuring students to make the binding decision to apply early despite their better judgment. 

So, what’s the right decision going forward? Should BC continue to offer Early Decision for future classes or not? Who is it helping, and who is it harming? These questions are worth asking ourselves, especially at a school where we strive to be men and women for others. However, I am not the right person to attempt to answer them. I made the decision in Fall of 2020 to apply to Boston College via Early Decision I. I had been lucky enough to tour the school in the summer of 2019 before the pandemic began, so I knew what I was getting. I am also fortunate enough that my family didn’t have to worry about financial assistance when looking for schools. And once I got into BC, my anxiety about the college application process was completely relieved. Early Decision was the right decision for me, but there’s countless others who simply cannot access it. While BC touts that the class of 2025 is the most diverse and talented in the school’s history, it is still majority white. With that being the case, BC is probably the last school that needs an admissions system that only serves to further exclude low income and minority applicants.

MCAS '25, Communications. Probably thinking of Parks and Rec fan theories and counting down the days until camp as you are reading this.