Asking if you have a better chance of getting into a highly-selective college by applying early decision is like asking if you have a better chance of hitting a home run if you're hitting at Coors Field in Denver. Yes, but only if you’re already a legitimate major league home run hitter.
Early decision is an admission option offered by a small number of colleges in which high school seniors apply to one (and only one) early decision school by early November. In return, the college gives you a decision by mid December. The catch is that if you get in, you have to go. You actually have to withdraw all your applications from your other colleges. It’s like an arranged marriage, college admissions style. A little research will show you that the admissions rates for early decision applicants are often significantly higher than those of students in the regular pool (University of Pennsylvania admits more than 30% of its early decision applicants but about 10% of its regular applicants.) It’s some compelling data.
But the data won’t help if you’re not quite in the right league. Coors Field has a reputation as the most hitter-friendly park in Major League Baseball (something about the elevation combined with the dry air resulting in less wind resistance on the ball). If you’re Alex Rodriguez and you’ve hit over 600 home runs in your career, you’re going to do very well at Coors field. But if you’re me and you’re happy to get a solid base hit in the annual softball friendly, Coors field isn’t going to help.
A student who is a great match for an early decision college, who would be competitive even in the regular pool, and most importantly, who is absolutely certain that she’s found her collegiate soul mate might enjoy a small admissions advantage applying early decision. If you fit those three criteria, talk it over with your high school counselor and strongly consider the option.
But don’t apply to an early decision school because you think it might be your back door entry into a highly selective college. Attempts to game the system almost always backfire in college admissions. Reapply your energies to finding appropriate colleges who will appreciate you just the way you are.
And here’s where I’ll resist the urge to end with a painful strikeout/home run analogy.