If you’re currently a high school senior, chances are your life has turned into stacks of colorful college brochures, scribbled pros-and-cons lists and books about applying to college, all piled so high around you that you’re wondering where the light at the end of the tunnel went. Let’s admit it—you just started the college application process, and you already want it to end! Not only do you have to finalize your list of ever-growing colleges, but you also have to decide if you want to apply early decision to one of them.

Early Decision is an accelerated college application process in which students must typically complete applications by November 1st. Each student can only apply to one college early decision, and she usually hears back about her admission status by mid-December. Unlike both early action and regular decision, early decision is binding, which means that if you get accepted to your early-decision college, you are morally obligated to attend it and must withdraw all other college applications. Sounds like a big commitment, right? Luckily, here is a list to help you decide whether early decision is the right decision for you. Check out the best and worst reasons to apply to a college early decision!

Good Reasons to Apply to a College Early Decision

1. You’ve done your research.
All those books, brochures, online comparisons and college visits may seem tedious at first, but they definitely pay off in the end! You want to know as much as you can about the colleges you apply to so that you can make an informed decision. If you’ve done your research well, you will have a much better idea of which school you love enough to apply early decision to.
“I am a huge believer of early decision for students who have done their college planning early enough to have visited enough colleges that they feel secure in making that choice,” says Judi Robinovitz, a certified educational planner.
Robinovitz suggests spending a quality day on campus, attending classes, meeting with students and faculty and even participating in a college-sponsored overnight preview program if possible. You should remember to check out the academic life, social life, recreational life, surrounding community and transportation as well. “It’s much more hands-on research, being on campus,” Robinovitz says. “You should visit enough schools, a half a dozen schools or whatever is appropriate for that student … depending on how far in advance you start, how well you plan and also budgetary constraints, … to be able to say that this is the place I feel perfectly content.” If, after you have done extensive research, you still believe that a college is perfect for you, applying early decision may be in your best interest.

Doing your research ahead of time also allows you to have a back-up plan. “I applied early decision to a school and was deferred, so I still sent in more applications as I waited to hear back from the first school I applied to,” says Allie Sutherland, a junior at Syracuse University. “Always start on other applications, because nothing is worse than getting an unexpected rejection or deferral in mid-December from your first choice school and having only two weeks to put together all your other applications from scratch.” So start reading those books, searching the web and going on as many college visits as you can!

2. You just know that a college is the one.
Sometimes you will just know that a college is the college for you. “It’s like, how do you know when you’re dating? You’ve had a bunch of boyfriends growing up,” Robinovitz says. “How do you know when suddenly this is the one? Something just feels right.” If one college just feels right to you, count yourself and your dream college lucky and get that early decision application in the mail! “You should apply early decision if one college truly steals your heart and you’re willing to make the commitment to that college that if you get in, you will go,” Robinovitz says. “It absolutely does improve your chances [of being accepted].”
Christina Madsen, who is now a senior at Barnard, is really glad she applied early decision. “I knew as a legacy, my chances of getting in would be better, and as a native New Yorker I knew I wanted to stay in the city and that I thought I would be really happy at Barnard,” Christina says. “I got in, so I was really happy with my decision.”

3. You want to increase your chances of getting admitted to your dream school.
So you’ve done extensive research and you have your schools ranked top to bottom. What next? If you want to maximize your chances of getting into your dream school, applying early decision or early action is a good idea because it can often noticeably increase your chances of getting accepted. “Both early action and early decision tend to improve a candidate’s chances for admission, early decision much more so than early action, because all one has to do is look at the figures for students accepted early versus accepted regular and, with very few exceptions, the percentage accepted early is significantly higher than the percentage accepted regular,” Robinovitz says.

For example, the early acceptance rate for Princeton in 2013 was 18.3 percent, compared to their 5.44 percent regular deadline acceptance rate. The other Ivy League schools reflect the same trend. “While it’s true that the applicant pool does appear to be stronger earlier because they tend to be kids from high schools with better guidance, or kids who have the means to hire private counselors, that stronger pool would not account for the vast differences in acceptance rates early versus regular,” Robinovitz says. It’s advantageous for college admissions departments to accept more ED applicants because they know that the admitted ED students will definitely attend, and the admissions departments are therefore better able to shape the class very early on in the process.

4. You already have a strong application.
If you’re looking at your application and you see top-notch grades, high involvement in your extracurriculars and very high SAT or ACT scores, it might be a good idea to apply early decision to your top college to avoid competing with the regular applicant pool.

It can be really tempting to give yourself extra time to improve your grades and scores even further during senior year. This is a good idea if your dream college only admits or denies ED applicants without a chance for deferral, because you only get one shot at getting admitted. However, Robinovitz believes that the wait may not be necessary for a lot of colleges that do defer ED applicants.

“My feeling is that you should not wait for better scores, because let’s say you’re applying early and your grades are a little shy of what your college typically looks for,” she says. “One of three things is likely to happen: You may surprise yourself and get accepted. You may get outright rejected; the college looks at you and goes, ‘even if you had straight A’s, even if you had a 200-point SAT gain, we still would not accept you because it’s just not enough for us.’ Or they may just defer any action on your application until later in the year when they’re evaluating the rest of the applicant pool, giving you the opportunity to get in your better grades or higher test scores.”

Let’s be honest—if you get deferred, it’s not going to be fun being stuck in limbo. But it certainly isn’t the worst thing that can happen. Getting placed into the regular applicant pool to be considered for regular decision means getting a second chance, and that’s a rare opportunity to come by!

5. You want to know where you’re going to school ASAP.
Like every other high school senior out there, you didn’t know what real stress was until you were well into the college application process. Where was the advance warning when you needed it?

If the anxiety is getting to you and you really don’t want to wait months for admissions letter season, applying early decision may be a good option for you. It’ll be nice to know that you’ve already been accepted to your top choice well before the envelopes come out in the spring. After all, no one wants her entire senior year to be stressful! “You’re getting rid of a lot of the stress of the process earlier and finding out earlier if you’ve gotten in, so it can make the rest of your senior year much more pleasant for you,” Robinovitz says.

Bad Reasons to Apply to a College Early Decision

1. The college you want to apply ED to is the hardest one to get into on your list.
One mistake that students often make is they look at their list of colleges, find the one that is the hardest to get into, and pick that one for early decision, rather than applying to the one that is their very best fit academically, socially and culturally.
“You have to be completely committed and have visited enough colleges and have done enough research to know that this is definitely the best fit for you for applying early decision,” says Robinovitz, who compares the correct way for dealing with early decision to dress-shopping. “Imagine for a minute that you’re going shopping for a dress or something super important; Hopefully you’re not just going to buy the first thing that looks good on you. You’re going to put it on hold and you’re going to go and continue looking until you find the perfect dress, and you’re going to grab it after you’ve seen enough. And that’s how I would look at early decision.”

2. You want to receive more financial aid.
It’s totally normal to daydream about all the great things that your top college has to offer, but it’s also easy to forget about some not-so-minor technicalities like financial aid. It is important to remember that if you are in need of financial aid and apply early decision, you will not be able to compare offers from multiple schools.

“There are some colleges that tell you not to apply early decision if you need financial aid, so you need to check the college’s financial aid policy,” says Robinovitz. “There are some colleges that can be much more generous during early decision because they know you’re making a commitment, but there are definitely people who believe that, ‘Hey, why should the college give you any money early decision?’ They know you’re bound to come, so [they] don’t have to entice you with money.”
Although colleges will not hold a student to an early decision contract if the family determines that the financial aid package is inadequate, you will have more flexibility if you apply early action or regular decision instead of early decision and are able to compare different schools’ financial aid packages. So make sure you take a look at the relationship between financial aid and early decision policies before making a commitment.

3. Your parents are telling you that you have to apply ED.
This is the number one worst reason to apply early decision to a school, according to college counselor Claire Nold-Glaser. Although it’s extremely important to listen to your parents’ advice about applying to college, you shouldn’t feel pressured into applying ED to a school if you don’t feel sure about it. Your parents will always try to do what’s best for you, but in the end, only you can know exactly what the most suitable course of action is for you to take.

4. You just want to get applications over with as soon as possible.
Trust us, we know—the college application process can be the most grueling ordeal you’ve ever experienced, and your patience and your ability to write essays under pressure will surely be put to the test. But it’s not worth it to apply early decision to a college just so you can be done with the process sooner.

“The worst thing about applying early decision is that if you get in, and then you realize that this college is not the right match for you, it can get sticky,” Robinovitz said. “If there’s any thought that you might change your mind, then don’t apply early decision.”

You want to really think about all of your options, because you’ll be attending the college for the next four years, and spending time and effort now to make an informed decision will only make you happier in the long run.

A lot of growing up can also take place during senior year, and it’s totally normal to find that your perspectives have changed over the past few months. “Understand that you don’t have to apply ED at all,” says Nold-Glaser. “Seniors should not feel rushed or under pressure to make a decision about where they will attend college. This experience is not a race, but one of self discovery.” So if you haven’t completely made up your mind yet, no worries! Just remember to not rush things and keep your mind open to all possibilities.

By, Winnie Ma of HerCampus