Photo by Creative Ignition

Around this time of year, lots of teenagers are getting some very exciting fat envelopes and/or brief phone calls.  Yes, it's Early Decision / Early Action season, and in this age of instant gratification and high-stress admissions gamesmanship, more and more families have turned to this safe haven. After all, it increases your odds of getting in and gives you peace of mind throughout the Spring. What's not to love?

Money, mostly. The not-so-attractive facts about Early Decision are this -- it's an option that only the well-heeled can pursue, since you have to make your college choice independent of FAFSA, and there's no guarantee that your chosen school will cover the difference. True, if you can prove financial need, they'll usually meet you halfway, but then you're right back in the stress laden boat you were trying to get out of in the first place!  And in the meantime, you're waving goodbye to any potentially better offers from other schools. Since almost everyone who applies ED does so to a reach school, usually there ARE better financial packages on the table by the time April rolls around, but at that point, your only option is to say no.

Given this state of affairs, it's not surprising that some families are beginning to wonder just how binding Early Decision really is. 
The answer is, quite binding. Schools look very unfavorably on candidates who walk away from ED, and doing so can hurt not only your own reputation, but that of your brothers, sisters, counselors, and even your school.

So if you know you're going to be in a tricky financial situation, do yourself a favor and bypass Early Decision. There are still plenty of non-binding Early Action options to get you that coveted peace of mind.  And if you've already made your bed, find a way to sleep in it!  Call your school and work things out. After all, if you were in love with them enough to apply in the first place, you should be in love with them enough to attend.