What exactly are the differences between early action and early decision?
Perhaps the most significant decision a student can make in the college application process will be if she applies RD (Regular Decision )ED (Early Decision) or EA (Early Action). To provide some issues pertaining to ED (both so-called EDI and EDII):
1. Students may apply to just one school ED (unless they apply to an ED school, are rejected, and then apply to an ED II school). This does not impact the number of RD schools to which they can apply.
2. If they’re admitted, they must attend this school.
3. Applying ED provides students with a significant statistical advantage in the application process.
4. Schools will frequently accept up to 40 percent of their freshman class from the ED applicant pool.
So, a student receives a significant advantage by applying ED to a school that offers the program. Even further, students are at a significant disadvantage when they apply RD to a school that offers ED; so many of the slots have been filled with the ED applicants that the room for RD students is very narrow.
Early Decision II
EDII is a relatively recent phenomenon, and it’s one of the more difficult to understand, but let’s try to go through it. EDII is the same as ED, but the application date usually falls right around the RD deadline. To clarify, let’s review a scenario that would prompt a student to apply under EDII.
Were a student to apply ED or EA to a school, they would typically do this at the beginning of November. The school would inform them if they were admitted or denied by December 15. If this student was denied ED from, say, the University of Pennsylvania, they would still have two weeks in order to apply under an EDII plan – for instance, at NYU – with the “bonus” that typically accompanies ED.
As you might guess, schools that offer EDII are good schools, but they’re depending on the students rejected from top-tier ED schools to apply to them under EDII. There aren’t too many schools currently offering EDII, but the list is growing. As I've mentioned NYU offers the plan, as do Claremont McKenna, Emory University, and Vanderbilt University.
EA is rather different from ED in most ways, aside from the "early" component of the application...and how confusing it can be.
• Non-restrictive EA
This plan is the most flexible of all the EA options, and it doesn’t provide an enormous statistical benefit in terms of admissions. However, if a student is interested in applying to a school that offers this plan, the student should apply under it, unless another school prohibits them from doing so.
Non-restrictive EA, offered at Chicago, Cal Tech, and MIT, for instance, is a plan that allows students to apply early – typically in early November –and receive a decision by mid-December. Depending on whose numbers you look at, there is a slight advantage to applying under this plan, and if a student is admitted he is not locked into attending the school.
Again, there are few true disadvantages to applying under non-restrictive EA. The timing can be an issue for some students, though, as they might not have earned their highest SAT score by the October test date (the latest test date that this plan will consider) or, if their spring junior year grades are less than stellar they won’t be able to show schools their fall grades. Aside from these factors, though, non-restrictive EA is thoroughly advantageous to the student.
• Restrictive EA (REA)
However, not every student will be allowed to apply non-restrictive EA, as schools in the REA category will prevent students from applying anywhere else early. Stanford, Yale, and Boston College all offer REA, which again does not require the student to attend the school, but gives them a bit of a boost in terms of admissions. Yale, for instance, has an RD acceptance rate of approximately 6 percent. Their REA acceptance rate hovers around 14 percent. Stanford’s numbers are almost exactly the same as Yale’s.
So, REA does give students an edge without locking them into the school. However, students will need to sacrifice applying to all other schools early (aside from those offering EDII) if they apply under REA. Choose wisely!