Choosing the Right College: Early Action vs Early Decision

Applying to college comes with a list of to-dos and deadlines. Most institutions have a designated time period for when they send out acceptance and rejection letters. However, there’s a possibility in some instances to be admitted earlier than the rest of the applicant pool. The differences between early action vs. early decision plans are important to know if you plan to select either. 



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What is Early Action?


Early action is a type of agreement that some institutions have where students can apply early and receive a decision before the regular decision time frame. For some schools, they may apply a restrictive early action policy, which means that students applying early action for their institution cannot apply early action for another school. 




What is Early Decision?


Early decision is a lot like early action, but with one key difference. The biggest difference is that if you apply early decision and are accepted, then you are essentially making a binding agreement that you will attend that institution. 



While this is great for students who have a strong preference to attend a certain school over any other, you are blindly accepting the financial aid package before seeing what other schools may offer. 




What You Should Know Before Applying Early 


If you’re considering applying via one of these routes, there are some key things to know. Firstly, the application process doesn’t differ from the traditional, regular decision route you’d otherwise take. It just takes place with earlier deadlines. 



With the timeline moving up, you’ll want to get your letters of recommendation squared away sooner. It’s good to think about this at least by the middle of your junior year in high school. 



Since everything happens sooner, it’s the best case for students who are performing well academically. If you need some extra time to boost your GPA, then early action or early decision may not be the optimal move. 




Which Students Should Apply Early?


As alluded to above, there are certain types of students that will benefit the most from choosing to apply early. While it’s an option for anyone, the goal is to boost your chances of admission, not hurt them. 



Early action and early decision students should meet some or all of the following points:


  • Has conducted extensive research on colleges 
  • Has a strong desire to attend a certain college and can clearly rank it as their first choice 
  • The college is a good match in terms of their requirements and the student’s academic history and future desires 
  • Possesses a strong and consistent academic record 
  • At least meets (and hopefully exceeds) the school’s goal GPA and standardized test scores 



Who Should Not Apply Early?


On the flipside, early decision and early action plans are ill-suited for any student who:


  • Has not conducted research on colleges 
  • Doesn’t feel committed to attend the institution 
  • Is only applying early to reduce stress or follow in friends’ footsteps 
  • Is lacking strong grades and needs their senior year grades to boost their record 



Pros of Applying Early 


Of course, there are upsides to applying early — that’s why students do it and colleges offer the option! 


Applying early is a great idea for any student who meets requirements and has their first choice of college set in stone. It also provides benefits like:


  • Minimizing stress because there’s less time spent waiting for a decision 
  • Saving money by applying to fewer colleges and submitting fewer applications 
  • Having extra time to find living accommodations and preparing for school once accepted 



Cons of Applying Early 


At the same time, there are some downsides to choosing to apply early. For starters, students may feel extra pressure to decide on a school sooner. If a student applies early decision and is accepted, then they have made an agreement to attend. However, the financial aid package may not be sufficient enough, or they may have gotten more aid elsewhere. 


If a student is rejected from an early decision application, then that doesn’t leave too much time to apply to another school. A good rule of thumb for those applying early decision is to still prepare a back-up application in the event they’ll need to submit to another school within the two-week period of receiving a decision and the regular application period closing. 


Lastly, applying early to college could exacerbate feelings of senioritis if you’re accepted early. Once accepted, you may feel like you’re in and there’s no reason to have to continue working as hard. However, colleges can still rescind their admission if your grades slip. 




Does Early Action or Early Decision Affect Acceptance Rate? 


Applying early doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have a higher chance of acceptance. The pool of applicants who apply early are typically of the highest caliber. 


Additionally, schools will have a certain proportion set for students who they’ll accept early and students who they accept during regular decision admissions. 


To know whether or not your chances will be affected based on when you apply, it’s recommended to reach out directly to your school of choice’s admissions office and ask specifically. 




What are the Deadlines to Know?


Most schools provide two deadlines for early action and break them down into early action one (November 1) and early action two (November 15). Some schools have an early action deadline as late as December 1. 


Early decision deadlines may vary. They are generally between November 1 and November 15. Common deadlines are November 2, November 16, and December 2. These deadlines may even be as late as December 15, January 1, January 2, January 15, or February 1. 



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Less Stressful Application Options 


While many higher education institutions list a bevy of requirements to apply or even be eligible to apply, there are other options to receive your education with less stress involved in the admissions process. 



For example, at the University of the People, students can simply fill out an application online and provide two requirements (English proficiency and a high school diploma) to be admitted and start learning. Along with the easy application process, students benefit from immense flexibility as all learning takes place online and the institution is tuition-free. 




The Bottom Line 


While not all institutions offer early admissions plans, many do. For students who fit the bill, early decision and early action applicants can prove beneficial and ease stress. For other students, the earlier process may be less suitable. 


Remember, there’s always an option to earn your degree however you see fit. If you don’t get accepted into your first college of choice, have some backup plans ready to go. Or, consider earning your degree online to save money, time, and expand your career opportunities. 




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