Most colleges offer some form of early admissions, and early application deadlines are just around the corner. Before you rush to submit early applications, consider all of your options.
Early Action vs Early Decision: What’s the Difference?
Early Action and Early Decision programs have similar timelines. Both have application deadlines that usually fall in October or November, and both usually provide students with a decision by January. What happens after you receive your admissions decision is the biggest difference between Early Action and Early Decision programs. If they are admitted, Early Decision applicants are obligated to enroll, but Early Action applicants are free to enroll elsewhere.
Under Early Action, students can:
- Apply early to more than one college
- Apply to additional colleges through regular decision
- Weigh options and wait until May 1 to make a final decision
Under Early Decision, students must:
- Agree to attend the college and withdraw any other applications if accepted
- Apply to only one college through Early Decision
- Submit a nonrefundable deposit well before May 1
Some colleges offer a third early admissions program known as Restrictive Early Action or Single-Choice Early Action. Under a Restrictive or Single-Choice program, students are not obligated to enroll if admitted, but they are limited to applying early to only one college.
Will Applying Early Help You Get In?
One of the biggest reasons a lot of students apply through early admissions programs is because they believe doing so will boost their chances of admission – but does it really help?
Let’s look at the numbers.
Early Decision by the Numbers
Nearly half of all selective four-year colleges offer an Early Decision program. At schools with Early Decision:
- 5% of all applications are Early Decision applications
- 63% of Early Decision applicants are admitted
- 51% of all applicants are admitted
Overall, Early Decision applicants have an 12% advantage in admission rates.
Early Action by the Numbers
More than one-third of all four-year colleges offer an Early Action program. At schools with Early Action:
- 43% of all applications are Early Action applications
- 73% of Early Action applicants are admitted
- 64% of all applicants are admitted
Overall, Early Action applicants have a 9% advantage in admission rates.
So…Does It Help?
The numbers suggest that applying early does give some advantage in admission – more so through Early Decision than through Early Action – but numbers aren’t everything. Although most schools have higher acceptance rates for early applicants than for regular decision applicants, there are other factors at play. For example, early applicants tend to include the most well-qualified students, making these applicants particularly attractive to colleges regardless of whether they apply early or not.
Regardless, applying early demonstrates increased interest in a college, particularly for students who apply through a Single-Choice Early Action or binding Early Decision program. Demonstrated interest is one factor among many that admissions officers consider when evaluating applications, so applying early can give you a slight edge on your applications. At highly competitive schools, that slight edge could well be the difference between admission or rejection.
That 14.5% admission rate for students who applied through Harvard’s early action program is still pretty low, but it’s a lot better than the 2.43% admission rate for applicants who didn’t apply early! The moral of the story: Check the numbers at the specific schools where you want to apply.
Who Should Apply for Early Admissions?
Early applications aren’t for everyone! You should think about applying early if you have already thoroughly researched your college options and finalized your grades and test scores. If you still hope to increase your test scores or if you need first semester grades to boost your GPA, your best bet is to wait until regular decision deadlines to submit applications. If you need help figuring out which is best for you, C2 has certified college counselors here for you!
Be sure to check out our post – Applying to College Early: Is It Worth It?