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When Binding Doesn’t really Mean Binding: the Early Decision Application
Mitchell Hamline Law Review (2022)
  • Jean Steadman, Charleston School of Law
Colleges offer a pathway to college admission with the binding Early Decision application. The Early Decision application has two key elements: prospective students are given an admission decision earlier than the typical spring acceptance notification date and, more importantly, the Early Decision application is binding on the prospective student. If a prospective student is accepted into a college under the Early Decision process, he must withdraw all other outstanding applications. Prospective students are repeatedly advised on the binding nature of the Early Decision application process and are well aware that by utilizing this process they are forming binding agreements. 

Legally speaking, the Early Decision application is only one element of the contract formation process. Whether it is qualified as an invitation to offer or offer, no binding contractual relationship is formed with the mere submission of the Early Decision application. This conclusion is supported by the fact that no college has signaled any interest in legally enforcing a binding Early Decision agreement. In fact, colleges acknowledge that the Early Decision application is, at best, a moral obligation or ethical agreement with no legal effect. However, colleges continue to promote the binding nature of Early Decision applications and do nothing to correct this misconception with their prospective students. 

Student – college contracts have been extensively researched, interpreted and adjudicated over the years. With the advent of the Early Decision application, this Article exams the contracting process 
and reaches the conclusion that the Early Decision application is not, in fact, legally binding because no enforceable contract has been formed by the application alone. Colleges have little incentive to share their true interpretation of the term binding as applied to the Early Decision application. Barring judicial review of the enforceability of the Early Decision application as a legal agreement, prospective students will continue to base their college application choices on an erroneous belief that binding really means binding. 

  • early decision,
  • college student,
  • college early decision agreements,
  • early decision contracts
Publication Date
Citation Information
Jean Steadman. "When Binding Doesn’t really Mean Binding: the Early Decision Application" Mitchell Hamline Law Review Vol. 48 (2022) ISSN: 2472-4807
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