Early Decision vs Early Action: Applying to College Early

By Judith Lee
For StudentAdvisor.com

early decision vs early actionFor all you high school juniors out there wrapping up AP exams and finals, summer is a great time to get a leg up on your college applications. First thing is to build your college list – that list of 6 to 10 colleges that you’ll be submitting apps to come fall. If you want to get a head start on the application process you might want to consider applying to schools early decision or early action.

“Should I Apply to College Early?”

For many colleges, there are two decision rounds, one Early (usually with deadlines from Nov 1-15) and one Regular (usually with deadlines around Jan 1-Feb 1). Early rounds come with different restrictions, depending on the college.

 

“What does it mean to apply Early Decision?”

You can only apply to one college Early Decision, and if you get in, you are required to withdraw all of your other college applications and commit to this one college. The only way to get out of this binding decision is if you applied for financial aid and the aid package the college is offering you is not enough for you to afford going there.

You should apply Early Decision if:

  • You believe your college record as of end of junior year is as good as it will get or your record is within the target range of the school where you would apply EA.
  • You have done enough work to get your applications in early (also meaning getting Recommendation Packets to teachers and counselors by end of September at the latest)
  • You have one top choice in mind and would be ok with committing to it if you get in.

“What does it mean to apply Early Action?”

This is where you can apply to many colleges early. This decision is not binding and if you get in, you can choose to wait to hear from other colleges before you decide. Most Scholar Strategies students will apply to at least one school EA.

You should apply Early Action if:

  • You believe your college record as of end of junior year is as good as it will get or your record is within the target range of the school where you would apply EA.
  • You have done enough work to get your applications in early (also meaning getting Recommendation Packets to teachers and counselors by end of September at the latest)

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What’s Restrictive Early Action?” (REA)

This is where you can apply to only one college early. This decision is not binding, and if you get in, you can choose to wait to hear from other colleges before you decide.

You should apply Restrictive Early Action if:

  • You believe your college record as of end of junior year is as good as it will get or your record is within the target range of the school where you would apply EA.
  • You have done enough work to get your applications in early (also meaning getting Recommendation Packets to teachers and counselors by end of September at the latest)
  • You have one top choice in mind.

“Why do colleges offer early application rounds?”

Colleges offer early rounds for a number of reasons. Its a great way to get a head start on filling up the incoming freshman class early with students who manage their time well enough and have performed well enough to submit early applications. Also, early admit numbers are usually not factored into the college rankings (e.g., US News & World Report) where a lower admit rate correlates to a higher ranking.

Early rounds are usually where legacies, athletes, development candidates (aka big donors), etc. are admitted. At many colleges the Early pool can be a slightly less academically competitive pool.

 

Judith Lee is Founder & CEO of Scholar Strategies, a college admissions consulting company that helps individuals achieve their educational and professional goals.  Judith loves meeting students and families, and can be reached at judith[at]scholarstrategies.com.

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