Early decision, merit money

Can someone explain the ED process to me? We’re visiting some colleges next week that have ED with S23. If he were to apply ED and be accepted, would he be obligated to accept even with no merit aide? We will have no demonstrated financial need, but accepting an offer with some merit is a different animal than accepting with a 70k annual price tag. We would spend full boat if it were truly his best option, but are we locked into that with an ED contract?

The TL; DR-
From @kelsmom , who has worked at higher ed institutions and has knowledge of how Financial Aid works:

“I suspect that a student is less likely to receive merit if they apply ED, simply because merit is often used as a tool to achieve enrollment. A student who applies ED has signaled a strong desire to enroll if accepted. I agree that merit offered to an ED student is most likely offered because the student has financial need. Some scholarships are targeted for students with financial need, so a college might offer such a scholarship to help meet an ED student’s need. It’s possible that a similar student applying ED without financial need might not get a similar merit scholarship. Then again, the school might offer merit to attract the very best students & if the student is top-notch, they might be offered merit even if ED. It really depends on the school’s policies. And yes, they do often keep those policies private for purposes of flexibility in enrollment management.”


If merit is desired, ED may not be the best option. Indeed, schools may feel less compelled to award merit to ED applicants for precisely this reason.


Hmm… ok, so he’d actually be less likely to be given merit if he applies ED?


If your child is applying to an ED college that offers merit, you can ask the area rep if they can do a merit pre-read prior to applying. If they agree, it is not guaranteed - but gives you a strong idea of the amount and if this should be your ED school.


Ok, that’s helpful. Asking for a pre read is a thing that can be done? I’m curious to see if S23 falls in love next week, then we’ll go from there.

Yes, it can be done - but not every school will do it. Also, your title is EA and ED - no “binding” enrollment for your EA schools. EA schools could defer and come back in RD with an acceptance and money at that point.

Asking the ED school for a financial pre read is only if it the top choice and your child would 100% attend - take the request as seriously as the ED agreement.

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Oh sorry, corrected my title. My older children did not apply ED, so I’m not terribly familiar with how it works.

Long story short is when you apply ED you are committing. If you desire merit or you simply don’t want to pay $70k a year…and some are $85k now……bcuz college costs more than what is published…then you don’t ED.

Schools will say you can be awarded merit ED. but anecdotally what seems is if it’s any it’s less than would be non binding.

Think about it. They are trying to get kids to attend. They have a fixed budget to acquire customers. Why would they give it to you when they don’t need to ? They need to use it on customers that might choose another brand.

It’s true some schools like Penn and more are filling half their class ED. On the flip side those top students are going for close to free to $30k a year if they strategize right and choose the right schools for budget.

Don’t know your student and desires etc but it’s a great question you asked and the answer is if I’m reading right that you can afford anywhere but you don’t want to afford it.

Many of us are in the same boat and don’t let our kids ED.

Good luck.


You should look at the common data set of the school that he is interested to see how common it is for someone with no financial need. The lines of interest are H2AN and H2AO. For example, Duke gave 11 students that had no financial need merit aid with and average amount of $73,324. That is from 896 students that have no need (H2A-H2C).


Super helpful replies, thank you! I will check out that common data set. Watching this year’s results has me nervous about our in state publics. I want to make sure we’ve covered the bases with public and private schools, but many of the private schools we’re looking at have significantly higher acceptance rates ED. It’s attractive to envision being done with the process early with an ED acceptance, but is it worth it for double or triple the money if he were able to get into one of our in state high quality publics? We’ll have to weigh our options and see if our son has a strong gut reaction toward a particular school.

Figuring out if it is worth it is very difficult. For my DS’s 7 acceptances, we had price points of 0, 15, 20, 40, 50(2), and 75k. The good thing is that confirmation bias sets in and you are convinced that you make the right decision.

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There are many schools you could apply to early and get an early decision. Or schools that auto admit with certain stats. This allows you freedom to investigate others as you desire because you have one done…as long as it’s a fit.

Depending on stats, there are many OOS schools that could be as affordable or nearly as affordable as an in state.

So u might start a chance me with gpa UW and weighted, sat, level of ECs, desires…ie small, medium, large…urban, rural, Greek or not, sports, major.

We can maybe guide you along. If you desire that……

It would not be surprising if that were true for at least some colleges. Merit scholarships are used to entice admits who are particularly attractive to the college. But an ED admit is already committed to the college, so presumably needs no additional enticement.


Lol, so whatever the decision, it will be the right one! Out of curiosity, which option did your child choose?

That’s helpful, thank you. I had started a match me thread to add safeties. With our D17 she had some early acceptances out of state that would have been affordable with the merit money that was offered, pathway to residency, etc… it was definitely a comfort. I’m seeing a lot of high stats kids shut out of anyplace they want to go, so I’m determined not to have that happen to my kid.

I believe that you will receive the same amount of merit whether you apply ED or non-binding. I know not everyone does, but I do trust that to be the case.

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I assume you are in CA. No clue of your needs but Pitt is a common, strong school to apply and be done early. Arizona is dirt cheap for the right kid as is Alabama. Arizona State another top choice.

No clue what u seek.

I’m full pay. We had a merit strategy but both my kids are where they want to be. I’d have been glad to spend more but I’ll be out about $140k for two kids over four years.

Strategy, luck and the kids choosing the ‘right’ school for them rather than the highest ranked.

Worst case I might have been out $300k….still reasonable relative to what could be.

I asked WUSTL bcuz they were incessantly pushing ED as many schools do. I said what if I don’t like the offer. They said if you can’t afford it, we’ll release you. I said it’s not a question of If I can afford it. It’s a question of if I want to afford it.

This type person should run run run from ED. And we applied RD and got waitlisted. My son wouldn’t have chosen it anyway but had he applied Ed I believe he’d have gotten in. And I’d have needed to spend $250k more than what I pay now. He’s an engineering major. Worked last summer on a team with two ga tech interns which are considered the crème de la crème… He was invited back this summer. They weren’t. I’m so glad I saved the loot :slight_smile:

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You may be right. And it will depend on the school. And truth is one wouldn’t know.

If you get $30k RD, would you have gotten it ED? Or if you got $10k ED, might you have gotten $10k or $25k RD. There’s just no way to know.

The issue would be though if you took that risk and lost, then you lose.

We are in California. There are some strange things afoot here with admissions. I don’t feel like we can count on the UCs at all. I’m a bit more comfortable with his prospects at Cal Poly where his sister went, but even still, things have gotten more competitive in the last 5 years. I have not looked at Pitt. Alabama is on the list as a possible safety, as is Arizona. We’re also looking at Colorado school of mines. My D17 applied and was accepted at UT Austin and Purdue, but those have gotten more competitive recently too, though they’d still possibly make the applications list. My child really wants to stay in CA, but we’ll see if that’s possible.

For 140k in with 2 kids, I think you’ve done very well! We’ve spent about 250k so far, and our kids chose economical options.

My personal experience, and those of others I know, have been positive with the ED strategy. You can always ask for the pre-read if the money is important (as it is for most people). But most colleges/universities say up front when you apply that they do not differentiate by application type for your merit aid.

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