Understanding Early Action and Early Decision Applications
Waiting is the most difficult part of the college admissions process. There are a number of reasons to consider applying Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED), and the abridged waiting period is one them.
Good Candidates for EA and ED:
Have spent a lot of time researching schools
Are confident in their first-choice institution and major
Feel ready to have a college decision as soon as December
And (of course) students whose first choice school offers EA or ED
Then let’s take a closer look at both Early Action and Early Decision and see if you should take advantage of these application types.
What is Early Action?
Despite the similar names, Early Action and Early Decision are two different types of college admission. EA can come in different forms, but standard Early Action is non-binding. You can apply to as many colleges EA as you’d like, and you’re under no obligation to attend if you’re accepted.
However, certain schools, such as Harvard College and Princeton University, for instance, have single-choice early action, sometimes known as “restrictive” early action, which means that you can only apply to that one institution EA. You can still apply to any schools you’re interested in during the regular admission periods, though! The primary difference between EA-restrictive and Early Decision is that if you’re accepted, you’re under no obligation to attend. You also have until May 1st to make your decision, which means you can also scope out institutions you're admitted to during regular admissions.
The standard timeline for Early Action applications are typically due on or before November 1st and the expected notification day is mid-December.
ED is more final than EA in a few ways. There’s no “restrictive” or “non-restrictive” Early Decision—it’s standard that ED is binding. In this instance, “binding” means two things. One, you can only apply to a single school ED, no exceptions. Two, if you’re accepted at that institution, you are under obligation to attend.
Early Decision applications are typically due by the end of October senior year of high school, and notifications will be released mid-December, around the same time as EA decisions.
Cons to Applying Early Decision
Comparing financial aid packages is one of the many reasons why students are encouraged to apply to between 5 and 10 institutions. Early Decision effectively eliminates that option—you have to accept whatever financial aid package they offer. This can also be true of EA, but more so for Early Decision since you’re obligated to attend the school.
There are some exceptions to this, such as if you honestly can’t afford the institution’s tuition, they likely won’t force you to attend. There can be unintended consequences in this regard, though, because schools publish their ED lists to other admissions’ offices, so you may have to take a few extra steps to ensure your application gets viewed if you apply after this circumstance.
What is the Point of Applying Early?
It sounds like it comes with a few cons—being restrictive or binding—so why do it? That’s a good question, and it’s definitely not the right decision for everyone. Taking advantage of early application opportunities do have a few benefits, though, including demonstrated interest.
Especially when you’re applying ED, you’re declaring that the institution is your top, your one and only, and you’re throwing all of your eggs in their basket because you know it’s the school for you. EA-restrictive gives a similar impression.
The idea of applying early also comes with a certain understanding—you’re prepared ahead of time, you’ve done your research, and you’re ready for this huge next step.
Is the Acceptance Rate Higher for EA and ED?
There’s some debate over this because, yes, it is true that a higher percentage of applicants are typically accepted during an EA and ED period than during regular admissions. The fact of the matter is that students applying during these early application periods are very likely above average students, which makes the competition fierce in spite of the schools accepting more applicants.
It’s a toss-up—more research would have to be done into the early application process. The fact of the matter is, though, that applying early can’t hurt your chances. In fact, if you’re determined to go to the institution, it might give you an extra nudge towards acceptance.
It’s important to repeat that Early Action and Early Decision aren’t for everyone—if you’re not committed, ready, and willing, you’re likely better off applying during a regular admission period.
If your sights are set on a single institution and you’re, as they say, “all in,” this is a great route for you. Check the application open and close dates, the requirements, and any stipulations the institution has about applying during an early admission period and have all of your materials sorted and ready to send off. Good luck!