Early action and early decision are great options for students that have a specific college in mind. Sometimes, you just know. For some students, they focus intensely on a school that is a great fit, a dream school, a family legacy, a sports fandom, or even a lifelong academic goal for them. They commit to applying to this one school, and they apply with the early decision deadline.
Sometimes, it works out well. When considering application deadlines—early action and early decision, as well as regular admission—it’s important to know some significant differences.
Early decision applicants usually receive an admissions decision from schools by December (after they apply in the fall). This means: a senior’s college plans could be all set by winter break. Students can only apply to one college with early decision; They can apply to others with the regular admission deadline. If accepted, students must withdraw all their other applications, and send a non-refundable deposit in the spring.
As a college graduate, a parent, and a college consultant, let me tell you: early decision is a great option for a confident student who is fully prepared, organized, and ready to commit to a school. Here is my anecdote for this: When I was a high schooler, I had a friend with a dream to attend a major university. He had visited twice; he wore all their sports gear during football season. He had great grades and a solid high school resume. However, when it came time to apply, he wasn’t ready. That is to say: He wasn’t completely prepared when his parents pushed him to apply with early decision.
The early decision deadline came in the busiest season of the student’s fall sport. He stayed up until midnight scrambling to finish an essay. And his application process was so rushed, that he made a mistake. He submitted his social security number with one wrong digit. After realizing (and after the early decision deadline), he sent in a note with a correction. When decision time came, this student was waitlisted. I think to this day, he is haunted by that misstep in his application. Would he have been accepted early had he taken the time to turn in a proofread, thorough, and thoughtful application with no mistakes?
Back in 1998, there was no College Ready to help, but throughout the decades, organization, preparation, and attention to detail remain essential for the application process.
Early action is a bit different than early decision. Candidates who chose this path still send in an application early, however it is what the college folks call: non-binding. That means, you can consider an acceptance offer, but you do not have to commit once you are accepted. Early action students are free to apply to other colleges under regular admission plans, and they often get notified about admissions decisions in January or February.
The College Board points out the many benefits to applying early. Students can: Reduce stress by cutting the time spent waiting for a decision. They can save time and expense of submitting multiple applications. Once accepted, students can gain more time to looking into housing and preparing for college. Drawbacks of applying early include: pressure to make a decision right away, reduced financial aid opportunities (no chance to compare to other schools), and a time crunch if the need to apply to other schools arises.
It is important to keep in mind that the early action and early decision processes vary among different schools, so be sure to work with a consultant and understand the process in detail.
Some questions to consider if you are thinking about applying early.
- Have you:
- – Done extensive research on your college options?
- – Toured your chosen college while classes are in session?
- – Explored social, academic, and extracurricular opportunities at this school?
- – Considered financial aid possibilities?
- – Is this school really the one, or are you interested in others?
Regular decision, as its name implies, is the common deadline that most applicants adhere to. There’s some good reasons for that! The regular decision deadline allows seniors (and their families) a few more months to prepare for this complex application process. It also reduces the risk of senioritis by keeping that college acceptance as a great reward to earn in the spring of senior year.
From October through January, college application deadlines are happening.
No matter which date you choose, it is so important to assess where you are in the process, and to ensure that you submit your best material to the school or schools of your choice.
Read our blog post about Dream Schools