early decision and early action

Early admission allows high school seniors to apply to colleges prior to the regular admissions cycle. Early admissions can be conducted as early decision or early action. While not offered at every college, these options can be beneficial for eager students.

Early admissions work on accelerated timelines and can provide an advantage over those applying during regular decision periods. Students interested in these options must track deadlines to ensure the proper documents are submitted on time. The College Board provides a general calendar for those considering early admission on its website.

What is Early Decision?

Early decision offers students the chance to enter their top choice school. Applying through early decision puts the student’s application in front of committees before others. Further, these applicants have the opportunity to choose their colleges months before the regular decision deadline.

When applying through early decision, students sign a binding agreement with the college or university. This requires students accepted to a college during early decision must attend that institution. Once students are accepted to a college through this method, they must withdraw their applications from other schools.

The early decision process requires research and careful planning. Early decision applicants should research their chosen school prior to applying to ensure it suits their goals and financial limitations. Because of how early decisions must be made, financial aid packages may not arrive before the deadline.

Students applying through early decision may apply to their other top schools through the regular decision process. However, if they are accepted through their early decision application, they must withdraw from all others. Due to the binding nature of early decision, students can only apply to one school using this method.

Many institutions offer two early decision deadlines to give students more time to apply. Those applying to the first phase of early decision, ED I, submit their applications no later than November 1. Those applying during ED II can submit their applications no later than mid-January.

Students applying through ED I know their status by mid-December while those applying through ED II receive their status mid-February.

What is Early Action?

Unlike early decision, early action is not binding. Students do not have to sign an agreement with their chosen college or university. They can apply to multiple schools using this method and have until the regular decision deadline to make a choice.

This option gives students more choices as well as access to financial aid. Financial aid packages have time to come in from all institutions due to early action’s extended deadline. For students relying on financial aid, this can factor in their decision-making process.

Once students make their choice, they must withdraw outstanding applications by or before the regular decision deadline.

Restrictive early action, or single-choice early action, is a compromise between early decision and early action. Students interested in this option can only apply to their first-choice early action institution. While this option is nonbinding, students may not be allowed apply to other schools through early action or early decision.

Early action provides more options for applicants because it is not binding. Students can examine each offer and choose the best college for their needs. Students applying through early action will receive their admissions decision around December or January.

Is Early Action or Early Decision a Good Idea?

Both early action and early decision offer students an advantage over the competition. A few factors may help those having trouble choosing the best approach.

Early action and early decision typically appeal to students with high GPAs, excellent standardized test scores, and strong extracurricular experience. Both options work well for these students because they’re already showing their potential. Regular decision is a better option for students interested in improving their current GPA or test scores.

According to U.S. News, acceptance rates for early applicants are statistically higher than their regular decision counterparts. This is partially due to the strength of the early applicant pool and the student’s demonstrated interest in the particular school.

While early decision guarantees an applicant’s seat if they’re accepted, early action provides more flexibility.

Early Action and Early Decision FAQs

Over 450 institutions offer some sort of early admission plan. Below, we’ve answered some frequently asked questions regarding early admissions.

Can students apply to multiple schools with early action?

As long as each school has early action as an option, students can apply to multiple schools. Early action does not contractually obligate one to attend that institution, although some schools are more restrictive than others. Top institutions that treat this option with the same gravity as early decision include:

  • Yale University
  • Harvard University
  • Stanford University
  • Princeton University
  • University of Notre Dame

Can students apply for early decision to multiple schools?

Early decision is like signing a letter of intent, so students can only apply to one school using this option. Students who opt for this application process are sending a signal to the school they plan on attending.

Once a school accepts the applicant, the student must withdraw all other applications. Sometimes students try to skirt the system by applying early decision to multiple schools. If either school finds out, both colleges can revoke admission.

Can students break an early decision offer?

The simple answer is no. Students cannot break an early decision offer. Students who apply through early decision sign a contract with the school that promises they’ll attend if admitted. While the agreement is not legally binding, colleges do not look kindly on broken contracts unless there are extenuating circumstances.

Some extenuating circumstances can include lower-than-expected financial aid or a death or illness in the family. Colleges are happy to work with students on early decision plans with financing options or defer admission to the following year.

What happens if students are accepted by another college as well as their early decision school?

Early decision happens several months before regular decisions. Colleges want to admit the best and brightest, and early decision improves the institution’s chances of achieving that goal. Once accepted through early decision, students are ethically bound to attend that institution.

At that point, students must withdraw all other applications. It is in their best interest to only apply ED to their top choice school, so they don’t end up locked in to their second choice.

Increase Your Chances with Early Admissions

Early action increases your chances of getting into your top school.

Choosing the right institution to pursue higher education goals takes work. However, for students who have narrowed down their choices, early admission offers more benefits. Colleges prefer applicants who are motivated to attend their campus and meet rigorous standards.

Applying with early admission demonstrates an applicant’s desire and willingness to make a strong choice. Early decision is a restrictive option that locks students into their top choice school once accepted. Early action allows them to apply to all their top schools and wait to decide.

Depending on financial needs, early action also gives students a chance to see aid packages before accepting an offer. And, as college costs soar, financial aid matters.

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