It is extremely rare for a family to ask to be released from the Early Decision commitment for financial reasons. If a family determines after discussion with the Office of Financial Aid & Educational Financing that they cannot afford to finance a Columbia education, the admitted candidate can be released from the Early Decision agreement. The family must speak with a financial aid officer before the release is granted. Ultimately, it is the family's decision whether or not they feel capable of accepting the need-based Columbia financial aid award.
Those who do opt out of their Early Decision contract are released to pursue other colleges and universities; the admission offer at Columbia University is then cancelled. A candidate who declines Columbia's Early Decision offer will not be allowed to reconsider Columbia's financial aid estimate in the spring Regular Decision cycle and will not be able to reinstate the original offer of admission.