College Applications: Early Action vs. Early Decision

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Students who are accepted into college early have the advantage of peace of mind during their senior year of high school. Applying early decision or early action is a smart move for the confident applicant to stand out from the pack. But applying early is not for the faint of heart—those applicants who are accepted enter into a binding agreement to attend that college.

Early decision versus early action

Early decision plans are binding — a student who is accepted as an ED applicant must attend the college. Early action plans are nonbinding — students receive an early response to their application but do not have to commit to the college until the normal reply date of May 1.

Early Action vs Early Decision: What does it all mean?!?!

What is early decision?

Early decision (ED) is an accelerated admissions process that creates a binding agreement between a student and their first-choice school. Since it is a binding agreement, you can only apply to one school using the early decision process. Additionally, early decision schools usually require signatures from the student, their parent or guardian and a school guidance counselor.

When using the early decision process, you typically receive the schools decision letter in December. If you are accepted, the school offers you a financial aid package that has been tailored to meet your familys specific needs. You must enroll in the school and send in a nonrefundable deposit before May. If your application is rejected, you may be unqualified for regular admission with that school, or you could receive a deferment notice that allows you to complete the regular admissions process.

What is early action?

Early action (EA) is a college application process that allows you to apply to schools before regular applicants. Early action applicants can potentially gain admission to a school or schools before other prospective students can even apply. As an early action applicant, you typically have until November to submit your admissions application, and early action schools usually send out acceptance letters in January or February.

Though most early action schools are non-binding, meaning you can apply to several universities and colleges using the early action process, some Ivy League schools use a single-choice early action process. This restrictive model only allows you to seek early action with one university, but you can complete the regular admissions process with other schools.

Should you apply early?

You should consider applying to an institution early if you:

In other words, early application plans may be less than ideal for you if youre unsure of where you want to attend college or need to bring your grades up during your senior year.

Early action vs. early decision

Heres an overview of the major differences between the early action and early decision process:

Advantages of applying early

If you have narrowed down your options and chosen your first-choice school, applying early can provide many benefits. For example, it:

Disadvantages of applying early

Though there are plenty of benefits associated with applying early, it does come with its share of drawbacks as well. For example, it can:


Is early action better than early decision?

Schools with early decision programs tend to have higher acceptance rates for those applicants than for the overall applicant pool. Early decision is more valuable to colleges than early action because it helps them determine their yield of accepted applicants who actually enroll in college.

Does early action increase chances?

Admission odds

Generally speaking, early action programs do not significantly increase your child’s odds of getting into colleges, especially at highly selective schools. They simply allow your child to find out sooner whether or not they’ve gotten in.

Is early action more competitive?

The admission rates in the early application pool also tend to be higher, even though the pool is typically more competitive than the regular round. However, because the early round is full of extremely competitive applicants, it’s not always the best choice for every student.

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