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Last updated March 21, 2024

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Is Early Decision Binding?

Key Takeaway

Early Decision is a binding commitment. ED often has higher admissions odds because you are required to attend if you are admitted. While it possible to break an ED agreement because of financial reasons, it should be a last resort. Before you apply ED, make sure the ED school is the best fit for you academically, socially, and financially.

Applying Early Decision can give you a competitive advantage. After all, we know from Common Data Set data that many schools admit Early Decision applicants at a much higher rate than Regular Decision or Early Action ones.

But with that boost in chances comes a catch: Early Decision applications are binding. That means that you’re obligated to attend if you get into your Early Decision school…or are you?

When you sign an Early Decision Agreement, you’re legally binding yourself to attend the college in question.

But is there any wiggle room with that contract?

In this post, I’ll explain what a “binding” Early Decision agreement is and break down all the ins and outs of backing out of an Early Decision Agreement (spoiler: don’t do it unless you absolutely have to).

What is Early Decision?

Early Decision (ED) is an admission plan that lets you apply to a college early. Unlike Early Action, you can only apply to ONE school Early Decision.

Why? Because an ED application is a promise that you'll enroll if accepted.

When you submit an ED application, you also have to submit a binding Early Decision Agreement through the Common Application. You, your guardian, and your school counselor must all sign the agreement. By signing the agreement, you all are acknowledging that you will attend the institution if you are admitted.

An ED application offers several benefits, the main one being increased admission odds. By expressing that the school is your top choice, the school may be more likely to admit you because they’ll know that you will definitely attend.

What does “binding” mean?

In the case of Early Decision Agreements, “binding” means that you are required to attend the school you ED to if they admit you.

When admitted to your ED school, you must withdraw all the other applications you’ve submitted. You can’t even wait to see whether you get admitted. And you certainly can’t keep applying in the Regular Decision round after you’ve already been admitted ED.

Let’s look at a scenario:

Aaron’s top three schools are MIT, Harvard, and University of Virginia .

Aaron decides to save Harvard for Regular Decision. But he applies Early Action to MIT, since MIT doesn’t offer an Early Decision option and it’s still his top choice.

But Aaron also knows that applying Early Decision can help boost your admissions chances, and he doesn’t want to lose out on that advantage. So he decides to apply Early Decision to the University of Virginia, a school that he really likes.

In December, he hears back from the University of Virginia. He’s in! Woo! He spends the evening celebrating with his family.

The next day, he gets an email notification that his MIT portal has been updated. His heartbeat quickens. His palms feel swampy. He clicks into the portal and is filled with a rush of disbelief, elation, and…regret. He was admitted to MIT.

But he had applied Early Decision to University of Virginia. He had signed a contract to attend.

Is Aaron out of luck? Can he back out of his ED Agreement to the University of Virginia and attend MIT instead?

Can I back out of an Early Decision Agreement?

In short, probably not. Under the conditions of the Early Decision Agreement, Aaron will be attending the University of Virginia.

Now, is it EVER possible to back out of an Early Decision Agreement? Yes. Life is unpredictable, and circumstances may shift.

The only legitimate reason you can rescind your Early Decision Agreement is for financial reasons. If you get your financial aid package and realize that it’s insufficient for you to actually attend, you may be able to break the contract.

To avoid this situation in the first place, you should use a school’s Net Price Calculator before applying ED. This tool gives you an estimated financial aid package and helps you avoid unexpected financial surprises.

If you do receive an insufficient financial aid package, contact the school's financial aid office. Explain your situation, and ask if they could reassess your aid package. Distinguishing between grants, scholarships, and loans in your financial aid package can help you navigate this process, but ultimately you’ll have to look at the cold, hard facts. Is your aid actually enough for you to attend the school?

I want to emphasize that an ED agreement is a commitment that should be respected. It’s how students and universities plan out their enrollment. We strongly discourage students from rescinding an ED agreement, except for incredibly serious reasons.

Your school counselor and parents also sign ED agreement for a reason. It’s a team effort to make sure that you and your support system are on the same page. If you're thinking about rescinding it, you need to involve them in the process. They can offer you guidance and support.

Also consider the consequences of rescinding your ED agreement. Doing so might reflect negatively on both you and your school. You would also take up an ED spot that could have gone to another student who was certain about their choice. We recommend you fully consider your options before applying ED to a school to avoid such circumstances.

Ultimately, when you apply ED, you need to be confident in your choice. The school should be a good fit for you academically, socially, and financially. If the idea of rescinding your ED agreement crosses your mind before you apply, reassess applying ED there in the first place.


Applying Early Decision to a college is a binding commitment and should be taken seriously. While it's possible to rescind an ED agreement, doing so should only be a last resort in extremely unusual circumstances. The best way to avoid this is by ensuring that your ED school is an excellent fit for you in every aspect from the very beginning. Use tools like the Net Price Calculator to anticipate financial aid packages and keep your school counselor and parents in the loop throughout the process.



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