The University of Virginia this fall will join the relatively few public universities offering applicants “early decision,” a program that requires those who are admitted to enroll.

The recruiting technique is mainly used by private colleges and tends to give an edge to prospective students from affluent families who don’t need to compare financial aid packages.

U-Va. will become the only big-name state flagship school in the country to use early decision. The shift comes as growing numbers of students seek to improve their chances of admission to prestigious schools by applying early. Students using the U-Va. version would apply by Oct. 15 and learn the outcome two months later, according to a university statement Wednesday.

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The university will continue to offer applicants two other choices. One is known as “early action,” which allows students to apply by Nov. 1 but doesn’t require them to enroll if accepted. Early action outcomes are released in late January. Those admitted are allowed to continue shopping until May 1.

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The other option is known as “regular decision,” with an application deadline of Jan. 1 and outcomes released by April 1.

“We now offer three distinct plans that suit each type of potential applicant to U-Va.,” the university’s dean of admission, Gregory W. Roberts, said in a statement. “Early decision is for students who know without a doubt that U-Va. is their top choice for college.”

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The university said there will be “no advantage or disadvantage” to applicants based on which plan they choose.

This will not be the first time U-Va. has used early decision. It tried the technique for several years but scrapped it in 2007. Explaining why, Roberts said in 2010: “Since early decision was abolished, the university has admitted classes that are both increasingly diverse and academically better qualified.”

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Other public flagships that compete with U-Va. do not use early decision. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor use early action. The University of California has no early applications.

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The State University of New York’s Geneseo campus and College of Environmental Science and Forestry offer early decision. But major SUNY campuses in Buffalo, Albany and Binghamton do not.

In Virginia, public schools William & Mary, Virginia Tech and Christopher Newport also offer early decision.

About 40,800 students applied to U-Va. for the class entering in the fall, and 9,725 were accepted, for a preliminary admission rate of 24 percent. About 12 percent of U-Va.’s 16,700 undergraduates have enough financial need to qualify for federal Pell Grants, according to government data, lower than the share found at many other major public universities.

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But U-Va. meets full need for admitted U.S. students from Virginia and out of state, providing one of the most robust financial aid policies in the country for a public university.

“We remain 100 percent committed to attracting talented and diverse students from every corner of the state and throughout the country,” Roberts said Wednesday in a phone interview.

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