Early Decision and Early Action

universityCollege deadlines are more complicated than they used to be. Students face a wide array of choices including early action, single choice early action, early decision, rolling admissions and regular decision. Students need to fully understand the implications of each of these choices for their admissions chances and for financial and merit aid. Here’s what you need to know to sort through the myriad of choices available.

College Admission Deadline Types

Regular Decision – Deadlines are most often in December and January. Students hear back about admissions sometime in spring and need to make a college decision by May 1st.

Early Decision – When a student applies early decision they are making a binding commitment that they will attend the school if they are admitted. Deadlines are most often during October and November and students most often hear back a few weeks later.  Colleges may reply to the student’s application with an acceptance, a rejection, or an offer to place the student on a waiting list. Remember that applying early decision is entering into a contract with the college. Often colleges will allow students to put in other nonbinding early applications with the understanding that if the student is accepted they will withdraw other applications. Swarthmore is an example of college that offers early decision admissions.

Georgetown UniversityEarly Action – In early action, students apply early in the admissions season and will receive a decision back from the college within a few weeks. Early action does not require the student to make a binding commitment. The college may offer an acceptance, a rejection, or a wait list offer. If the student is accepted he or she has until May 1st to decide if they want to attend.

Single Choice Early Action – In this type of early action application the student may apply to only one college under an “early” plan. It is different from early decision, however, because the student is not required to accept the offer of admission.

Restrictive Early Action – The college places a restrictions on the types of colleges a student may apply to during the early cycle. Private schools may not permit students to apply to other early programs at private schools. The restrictive early action program may still allow students to apply to nonbinding public school programs or to foreign universities. Stanford University’s restrictive early action option is a good example of this admissions option.

Rolling Decision – Some colleges operate on a “rolling decision” basis. They evaluate applications as they are received. When they have accepted enough students, they stop. At many of these colleges, students who apply in the early part of the admissions season have a significantly greater chance of being admitted than students who apply later in the cycle. University of Minnesota is an example of a school that reviews applications as they are received on a space available basis.

Is it easier to get admitted with Early Action and Early Decision?
At some schools, students have a much better chance of being admitted if they apply through early action and early decision. The extent of this advantage varies from school to school, but in a highly competitive admissions climate with single digit rates of acceptance, it can be appealing for students to improve their odds. While the admissions rates may look a lot better through early action or early decision it is important to understand that these numbers may be somewhat deceiving. Students who apply early tend to be a more affluent, stronger applicant pool and the pool includes some special categories of students, such as recruited athletes, that have an above-average chance of being admitted. So, it is not possible to give a single answer to whether applying will up a student’s odds of admissions. It depends on the college.

Does every college offer Early Action and Early Decision?
No, they don’t. Each college makes their own choices about what types of admissions they wish to offer. Students can find specific application options and deadline information on the college websites. For colleges that use the Common Application this information is also available under each specific college.

How do I know if I’m ready to apply Early Decision?
Early Decision is a serious decision. Early Decision deadlines are near the beginning of senior year. This is a commitment that students should only make after very careful consideration. Before you decide make sure you’ve spent plenty of time on campus and that you’ve really had time to evaluate if it is a good fit for you academically and socially. Don’t just visit one or two campuses and “fall in love.” You need more basis of comparison before you commit to a binding agreement.

If you require financial aid, make sure you have thoroughly researched the school’s policies and understand what you will be expected to pay and to borrow. If you tend to be a person who changes your mind frequently or feel pressure with quick decisions, early decision is not for you.

Finally, it is important before you commit to Early Decision that you have a realistic understanding of your admissions odds. Some homeschoolers need the fall senior year to gain more supporting evidence to validate their homeschooling record. Taking SAT subject tests in November will typically be too late to help with early admissions plans. Similarly, if you are counting on fall of senior year dual enrollment credits and grades to help support your record, they won’t be available at the time early decisions are made. While the overall odds may be better applying early, your odds may be better with more support from your transcript.

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