Applying to college can be a rather overwhelming process, with numerous deadlines, finally clicking the submit button for your application, and ultimately, the nail-biting wait before hearing back from admissions. This is part of the reason why some students may decide to apply early action, instead of — or in addition to — applying for regular admissions.
Early action can be a great way to eliminate some of the stressors associated with applying to college, but there are some things you should know before making this decision. For instance, early action is non-binding, but what does that mean?
What is Early Action?
Early action is an application deadline put forth by some colleges that allows students to apply early for a school they’re potentially very interested in attending.
Students who apply early action will generally receive a decision from admissions by January or February, which is several months earlier than when decisions are given out for regular admissions.
Students who apply early action can apply to other schools via regular admission as well without having to worry so much about consequences as they would have to with early decision.
What is Early Decision?
Early decision is similar to early action in that it gives students an opportunity to apply early to college. Students who apply early decision will usually hear back by December.
However, unlike early action, students who apply early decision are binded by this decision, and must commit to the school if they are admitted.
The Difference Between Early Action and Early Decision
There are several differences between early action and early decision that are important to be aware of if you plan on applying for either one. These differences range from when applications are due to when decisions are made, to the ethical rules that apply to each one.
However, the biggest difference to understand between early action and early decision is that early action is non-binding while early decision is binding.
However, some schools that offer early action request single-choice early action, which means students can not apply to any other schools EA or ED. We’ll get more into what “binding” versus “non-binding” means.
Is Early Action Binding?
Unlike early decision which is binding, early action is non-binding. This means that students who get accepted by the college they apply to as an early action applicant do NOT have to commit to that school. This leaves options open for students who like to be prepared ahead of time, but don’t want to limit themselves to other options.
Why Students Should Consider Early Action
Students should consider early action for a variety of different reasons, especially if they are considering applying early action versus early decision.
In terms of early action versus regular admissions, early action gives prospective students the ability to essentially get their college applications out of the way early on in their senior year.
Plus, because they’ll hear back early from early action, an acceptance means that the student will have several months to relax before the end of the school year, where they can focus on other projects or simply getting ready for college.
In terms of considering early action versus early decision, early action is considered a “better” decision for some students because it’s non-binding, which means if you get accepted and you want to attend the school by the time you receive your decision, great, but if you change your mind, that’s okay, too.
What is the Point of Doing Early Action?
The point of doing early action is that in many ways, it shows the school that you’re serious about attending. It demonstrates that you’re organized and determined enough to get your materials together ahead of the regular admissions deadline. It can also be a huge weight off your shoulders if you do get accepted because even though you should still apply to other colleges as a backup, you could potentially know where you’ll be attending college far sooner than your peers will.
Of course, applying early action is not for everyone, but it is definitely worth considering if you feel fairly confident that you want to attend a specific school. Best of all, because it’s non-binding, you don’t have to commit to anything if you feel differently after applying, and/or if the financial aid package is not what you anticipated.
What Students Should Know Before Applying Early Action
Though the information regarding early action is general and refers to most schools who offer it, there are a few other bits of information worth knowing:
- Early action is not offered by every school. Currently, according to CollegeBoard, there are approximately 450 schools that offer either early action, early decision, or both.
- Schools who offer early action may have different deadlines for other schools that offer early action, so be sure to check these if you attend on applying early. You should also, of course, already have the bulk of your application materials ready towards the start of your senior year, like your standardized test scores (October at the latest), your teacher recommendations, and your essay.
- Though early action is non-binding, some schools who offer this have what’s called “single-choice early action” which means if you choose to apply early action at that particular school, you can not do EA or ED at another institution.
What NACAC Rule Changes Mean for EA Applicants
There has always been some controversy surrounding early action and early decision and how much colleges can really play a role in determining the future of a student. According to Inside Higher Ed, NACAC, which stands for the National Association of College Admission Counseling, made several changes to its Code of Ethics and Professional Practices by stripping provisions that violate the Justice Department’s antitrust laws.
Essentially, rules that were in place which historically prevented schools from offering students who have applied early action or early decision to other schools, are being removed to some extent. This allows colleges to offer incentives to students who apply early, even though there is controversy surrounding this.
The Justice Department believes there is collusion to limit choices for students, while the NACAC believes that they should be able to offer incentives or rules to prevent other colleges from poaching students. This could be better housing for the student, stronger financial aid packages, or even higher deposits to ensure the student keeps to their choice. Votes on these provisions means some changes and ongoing investigations, but many feel colleges will still do as they please.
Can I Back Out of Early Action?
Yes! Because early action is non-binding, you can back out. But, in this case, “back out” simply means that you do not need to commit/accept.
However, if you do decide to attend the school that you applied to early action, you should make any other schools you’ve applied to aware of this decision as a courtesy.
Likewise, if you apply early decision to another school and you get accepted to that school, you must withdraw all of your applications elsewhere.
Nothing will happen to you if you “back out” of early action.
What Happens to Students Who Back Out of Early Decision Offers?
Because early action is non-binding and there are no consequences for “backing out”, it may be a more desirable option for students who are not 100% sure they want to attend the university they’re applying early to. This is especially true compared to early decision, which does have consequences if you do back out:
If You Have Good Reason, Don’t Worry
While early decision is binding, there are circumstances in which students may have to back out that they’ll not be penalized for. This could be if the financial aid package you’re offered is not enough to help you with your college expenses. Another reason could be a family member becomes sick, you have a health issue, an accident, etc.
Sometimes, regardless of the reason you’re backing out (even if it’s one the reasons you typically won’t get penalized for), there still may be consequences worth noting:
Colleges Can Inform Your Guidance Counselor
One of the consequences that can happen if you back out of your binding early decision agreement (which is not a legal agreement, but still one that’s taken very seriously), is that colleges can inform your high school. Because your counselor needs to sign off on your early decision application, this can reflect poorly on your school if you back out without good reason. This can make it difficult to apply to other colleges.
You May Not Get Your Deposit Back
Oftentimes, colleges require a deposit to be submitted with your early decision application. If you back out, you’ll likely not get this back.
Colleges Can Reject You
Whether it’s because your high school counselor informed other colleges you’ve applied to or the college itself informed other schools, backing out of an early decision acceptance means that other schools that you potentially have applied for can rescind their offers. This is primarily due to the fact that to them, you may come off as unreliable and not a good fit for their school.
The Pros and Cons of Early Action
Knowing the pros and cons of early action can help you decide if it’s right for you, or if you should hold off and just apply for regular admission.
- The ability to get your college application(s) out of the way early.
- A less stressful senior year.
- You don’t need to wait all year to hear back regarding your decision.
- You can still apply to other schools in case you don’t get into your EA choice.
- Sometimes, applying early action can give you a higher chance of getting accepted than regular admission as it shows your level of seriousness to the school.
- Though there are no consequences for “backing out” of early action, it may feel like a major disappointment to not get accepted after all the work put in in order to apply early.
- You have limited financial aid options and have to accept the package given with your acceptance unless you cannot.
The Bottom Line
If you’re considering applying early to colleges ahead of regular admission deadlines, then early action may be a better choice for you than early decision if you feel there’s a chance you could change your mind later on. Remember, this decision is up to you, and you should not feel pressured to do one over the other.
And, if making these decisions feels too much right now, especially if you’re not certain you want to spend so much on tuition to attend an in-person college, then attending school online, tuition-free may be a better choice. University of the People (UoPeople) is the answer to this, and you’ll find that our application process is easy compared to that of ordinary institutions.