Early Decision vs. Early Action: To apply early or not to apply early?

By Dean Tsouvalas
StudentAdvisor.com Editor-in-Chief

Early Decision vs. Early Action: Hey Students, Which College Admission Process Best Suits You?

That is the question being explored by many college-bound students in the fall of their senior year.  Last week the nation’s colleges and universities released data that showed a 38% increase in the number of early decision applications they’ve been receiving.

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This is a crucial week because today, Tuesday November 1st kicks off the early decision deadlines.  Students who have no doubts about the college of their choice are getting a head start and frantically gathering recommendation letters, finishing essays and getting their applications in by the pending fall deadline.   The reason they are going through this is that they will know if they’ve been accepted by Holidays – months ahead of their peers.

Early decision is an accelerated acceptance process that begins with a student submitting an application earlier than usual (most often in November or December). Students receive an admission decision from their chosen college in advance of the usual spring notification dates. By December or January they will know if they will be attending their first-choice school.

If you have your heart set on one college –early decision is the way to go.

Q: What’s the difference between early decision and early action?

A: Early Decision: You can only apply to one college Early Decision, and if you get in, you are committing to this one college and required to withdraw all of your other college applications. You are making a binding commitment to go to that school.

Q: Can you get out?

A: 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.  So if you have any doubts early decision may not be right for you.   You want to go early action.

Q: What about Early Action:

A: 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.  You can compare financial aid packages and you may just not be ready to commit to one school.  Early Action allows student to apply early but doesn’t bind students to the school if they’re offered admission.  Instead, students can wait to see where else they’re accepted, compare financial aid offers and make their decision in the spring.

Q: What’s in it for the students?

  • Application fees. You can save money if you have your heart set on one school. Saves students the time and expense of submitting multiple applications
  • Reduces stress by cutting the time a student spends waiting for a decision
  • Gives students more time, once accepted, to look for housing and otherwise prepare for college.  It gives this type a student a head start.
  • If student is not accepted, having this information gives that student time to reassess options and apply elsewhere

Q: What’s the benefit of the college?

A: For colleges it’s a great way to get a head start on filling up the incoming freshman class with promising applicants. Colleges need to know if they accept you, you are really going to enroll. Very important to them because they are being bombarded with applications and the fewer students have to accept in the Spring the more “selective” they are perceived to be.

Q: Do students who learn early that they’ve already been accepted have to work hard the rest of the year?

A: You can’t get Senioritis.  Hopefully you will have a bit more relaxed senior year but colleges may rescind offers of admissions if their senior-year grades drop. So you need to keep up all the hard work that got you this far and celebrate your success.

For more check out this video from on Early Decision vs. Early Action that we did recently on NECN.

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