Everything you need to know about Early Decision vs. Early Action
When applying to colleges, you will be forced to make lots of different choices. One of the biggest choices for students is which application plan to use. Typically, colleges offer a range of application plans that all have different timelines, pros, and cons. While Regular Decision is the typical application plan with a January deadline and March response date for decisions, you may notice other application plans such as Early Decision and Early Action.
Jump ahead to:
- Early Action
- Early Decision
- Why students should consider Early Action or Early Decision
- Questions students should ask before applying Early Action or Early Decision
Early Action is an application plan that has an earlier timeline than Regular Decision. This timeline usually looks like this:
- Application Deadline: Generally November 1st or November 15th (but some colleges like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Georgia Tech will have an October 15th deadline)
- Decision Notification: You will receive your decision anytime between December and February.
The other big thing to know about Early Action is that it is a non-binding process. This means that if you apply Early Action to a college and are accepted, you are not bound to attend (this is not the case with Early Decision, but we will get to that later).
You might also come across a few other versions of Early Action called Single Choice Early Action or Restricted Early Action. Both of these types of Early Action have restrictions associated with them. For instance, they may prevent you from applying Early Decision or Early Action to certain colleges.
Bottom line: if you see Single Choice Early Action or Restricted Early Action, you will want to get details about the actual restrictions that you are agreeing to.
Now that we’ve discussed Early Action, let’s talk about Early Decision, which is the other big early application option.
The Early Decision timeline tends to be a bit more condensed than the Early Action timeline and will look something like this:
- Application Deadline: Generally November 1st or November 15th
- Decision Notification: You will receive your decision during the first few weeks of December.
Unlike Early Action, Early Decision is a binding process which means that you are agreeing to attend the college or university if admitted. Keep reading to learn more about why this can be a good move.
I also wanted to mention Early Decision 2, which is a second round of Early Decision that some colleges offer. Early Decision 2 works the same way as Early Decision, but has a slightly different timeline. Students need to submit their applications by January 1st or January 15th and will typically hear back in early to mid-February about final acceptance decisions.
Why should students consider Early Action or Early Decision?
So you might be wondering, why would a student agree to a binding admissions plan like Early Decision? Wouldn’t it be better to weigh your options and apply to lots of colleges?
Well, there is a very big reason why many students apply for Early Decision: by agreeing to attend the college if admitted, the college admissions office will generally give you extra consideration. At most colleges and universities, the Early Decision acceptance rate is higher than the general acceptance rate.
The other benefit to both Early Decision and Early Action is that you will get your decisions sooner! The admissions process can be a stressful one and it can feel good to either be done sooner or have some college options earlier on in the process. Plus, an earlier timeline is a great way to force yourself to finish work earlier on in the process.
Pro Tip: Students can actually combine Early Decision and Early Action. This generally does not work for colleges that are Restricted or Single Choice Early Action, but can be a good move if you have colleges that offer Early Action on your list.
Questions students should ask before applying Early Action or Early Decision
The decision to apply Early Action and especially Early Decision should not be taken lightly. Here are some questions that students and parents can ask themselves before actually pulling the trigger on submitting an Early Decision or Early Action app:
Am I 100% sure this is the college I want to attend if I am considering Early Decision?
Early Decision is a binding process, so you should be 100% certain that the college is the right one for you. Remember, you shouldn’t have any major doubts and should have thoroughly researched the college, assessed whether it will be a good financial fit through the Net Price Calculator, and toured the campus in person. If you have any doubts, you might be better off holding off until Regular Decision.
Do I feel confident about my academic record?
One of the downsides of Early Decision and Early Action that are less discussed is that you will not be able to submit a full semester’s worth of grades before applying. So if you had a rough junior year or have an up and down high school record overall, it can be a good move to have a full set of fall semester grades to submit.
Same goes for your test scores—if you are planning on taking certain fall tests for the SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject Tests, you may not be able to submit in time for Early Decision or Early Action. You can check in with the college admissions office for more details about this.