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With both Early Decision 1 and Early Decision 2, you are completing an application that will commit you to that college if the college accepts you. For that reason, you can only apply Early Decision at a single college at a time and if you are accepted there, you will have to withdraw any other applications you have submitted in the meantime. (Early Action programs, on the other hand, are non-binding; they simply give you a chance to apply to the school and get a response earlier than Regular Decision applicants do.) The advantage of applying Early Decision is that acceptance rates for ED applicants are sometimes two to three times higher than the Regular Decision admission rates at the same schools.
So, what is the difference between ED1 and ED2? For ED1, the deadline is usually around November 1, and you will typically find out about your acceptance by December 15. You may not even need to apply to any other schools if you are accepted (although you should still have your other applications completed and ready to go, just in case!). For ED2, the deadline is usually around January 1, and you will typically find out if you are accepted by February 15. The timeline for ED2 will force you to apply Regular Decision to the rest of the schools on your list and to withdraw those applications if you are accepted at your ED2 school. In short, ED2 is a second chance at applying Early Decision if your first choice Early Decision school rejects you. While the acceptance rates for ED2 are typically not quite as high as ED1, there is still a big added benefit in your likelihood of admission by applying ED2.
Note: many schools still have just a single ED program, so you should research in advance what schools have an ED2 option that you can pursue if your ED1 choice doesn't work out in your favor.
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