What Are Early Decision and Early Action Applications?

on March 21, 2016

There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about early decision and early action applications. Here’s your go-to guide if you want to rip off the Band-Aid and get your college applications over with before winter arrives.

The terminology surrounding early decision and early action is confusing – what does it all mean, anyway? We’re here to help you decipher college-speak. Here’s a rundown of the definitions of all the early application jargon you’ll come across, and the pros and cons of each option:

Early Decision

What is it? You’d better be committed to a school if you’re applying as an early decision applicant. This is a “binding agreement.” That means you promise to attend the school if you’re accepted. Here’s how to figure out if early decision is for you.

The pros:

  • You’ll find out if you got in within just a few weeks (typically no later than December). That means while all your friends are sweating it out over their first-choice schools, you can relax knowing you’re good to go.
  • Selective colleges often admit a huge percentage of students early decision, so your chances of getting in could be higher.

The cons:

  • You may not be able to negotiate financial aid.
  • You can’t change your mind.
  • It’s difficult to withdraw an early decision application – you’ll need to prove extreme financial hardship.

Early Action

What is it? Early action students send off their applications in the fall or winter, just like early decision students, but they aren’t required to attend if they’re admitted.

The pros:

  • You’ll get your decision early in the admissions cycle, typically before people who applied after winter break.
  • You have time to consider your options if you’re not sure which school to pick.
  • You may be able to negotiate a better financial aid package or compare how much money each school can offer you.

The cons:

  • If you aren’t certain about your choices, you may have to go back and submit more applications during the rolling admissions period.
  • If you’re not a stellar candidate, schools may defer your application.
  • Because of the early deadline, your application has to be perfect months before everyone else’s – if you’ve procrastinated and put it together sloppily at the last minute, you risk being denied.

Single Choice Early Action

What is it? SCEA is similar to early action. You send off your application early and you aren’t required to commit, but you can only send your application to one school during the early admission cycle.

The pros:

  • You’ll find out if you got in much earlier (often December).
  • You don’t need to worry about applications in the spring.

The cons:

  • You’ll have to wait until rolling admissions to submit the rest of your applications if you're not 100 percent sure you want to attend your SCEA school.
  • If you’re not a strong applicant you may be deferred.
  • You need to do more work upfront in putting together your application materials. 

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