When it comes to college admissions, students are faced with many decisions. One of these is whether or not they should apply early action vs early decision or just general admissions. Though all options may seem equally advantageous, in reality, early decision applicants have a much more difficult path to navigate. Let’s jump into this topic by breaking down the basics of early action vs early decision.
What is Early Action?
Early action as defined is the process of students applying early and receiving a decision well in advance of the institution’s regular response date. Each school sets its own requirements for the EA application, some not participating at all. If accepted by one college through EA, applicants are usually obligated to attend since they would already have been notified of acceptance well before May 1st, when most colleges begin making offers for enrolling next fall. This option still leaves room for students to change their minds about attending college if they are not accepted, or if they feel that another school might be better for them. The likelihood of a student deciding to go to a particular school under EA is much greater than the general admissions route. Typically, schools that offer EA will give a greater preference to students applying that way so they can get a better idea of the student fill rate for that particular class. This means that universities can make sure they are fulfilling their payroll for the year and can count on those students’ tuition.
- Much greater acceptance rate than general admissions
- Preferential but not contractually binding
- Can wait to get financial package from the college/university before committing to attend
- Typically apply to multiple universities under EA
- Earlier admission response
- Reduced financial aid opportunities
- Must have test scores early senior year for early application date
- Might be limited on # of EA admissions you can submit depending on the school
- Added pressure to make an early decision before all applications are back
What is Early Decision?
ED is an option only available at some colleges and universities where you can send in your application before December 1st of the year before you wish to attend. Applicants must then commit to attending said college should they be accepted. This early decision makes it much more difficult for a student to enroll elsewhere even if a spot opens up after May 1st, as many schools do not accept transfer applications for students who commit to school under ED. If a student is accepted via ED but decides that they don’t want to attend the college, they will have lost a full year spent there with no chance of returning once enrolled somewhere else. This is effectively a contract between you and the university. You have a greater likelihood of getting in but it comes at the price of commitment. In no way should you break this. By deciding to apply with ED, you need to understand what you are committing to.
- Much greater chance of admission (double the likelihood) than general and even EA
- Shows a school that they are your absolute first choice
- Have your college decision made early in your senior year
- Legally binding. If you get in, you must go to that school
- Incredibly restrictive and limits your college opportunities
- Ruins financial aid opportunity
- Does not allow you to pit other colleges against each other for your choice
There are some very important considerations before you make the decision to apply under Early Decision. You must know, you are committing to a school without knowing what financial package you will receive from them. If you apply under ED, you take the admission as is. We really only have students who understand that they will likely get little to no money from this college if they choose to go. They might have a better chance of getting in (because the university sees ED students as an easy tuition getter) but they might literally pay for it in the long run. Make sure if you choose ED you know that your financial opportunities for college will greatly suffer because of it. If cost is not an issue for you and you are lacking in the educational stats department, this might be a good shot at you getting into your dream school.
Who should apply Early Action?
There is very little downside to applying early action. So if you are a student who has their GPA, test scores, essays, recommendation letters, and activities where they need to be to apply- GO FOR IT! There are some one-off “don’ts” but overall, the downsides are not really there. The only no’s is if there are caveats set by the schools under EA applications or if you are still trying to increase your SAT or ACT scores for admission requirements. Aside from those, early action might just be a good thing!
Who should apply Early Decision?
This is a tricky answer so I am going to answer it gingerly. At our organization, we are not huge proponents of early decision because of its restrictive nature. Our organization feels like students thrive when making a decision if they have a number of options presented and they can make educated and strategic decisions when all options are considered. When it comes to early decision, you are making the decision somewhat blindly and really reducing your college options. With that said, early decision is a fantastic option for students who are only planning on applying to one school and that said school is competitive. Early decision will increase your chances of admissions because colleges are looking to fill early quotas. So if you are dead set on one school and it’s a reach college, take the early decision route. Please make sure you consider the financial element BEFORE making the commitment and realize that the decision is made if you get in. You will have to be comfortable with the financial package they supply you and there’s no wiggle room or negotiation for said price.
It is important for students to remember that the goal of early admissions- either early action vs early decision- is to have an advantage over other applicants. Usually, this means that they are more likely to be accepted by at least one school instead of many, as EA and ED applications only account for a small percentage of total college admissions. Also, colleges want to know what their incoming class will look like so they can prepare accordingly. This means that if a college already has a large amount or high achieving seniors it may not take on too many early applicants to maintain its level as a top-tier institution.
In the end, whether you should apply through early action vs early decision depends on your own personal circumstances. If you have been set on attending a certain school from day 1, ED is the way to go. If you are less certain about which college might be right for you, EA may be the right choice.