What exactly are the differences between early action and early decision?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

What exactly are the differences between early action and early decision?

Reecy Aresty
College Admissions/Financial Aid Expert & Author Payless For College, Inc.

What exactly are the differences between early action and early decision?

Early action = sooner notice. ED (only 1 school applied to) is a binding contract that if the student is accepted, they must send a letter to ALL other schools applied to to have their application withdrawn! They're telling the school that financial aid is of no interest, only being accepted is. This can be a nightmare if aid is not forthcoming.

Scott Herrmann-Keeling
College Counselor

What exactly are the differences between early action and early decision?

The main difference between early decision (e.d.) and early action (e.a.) is your level of commitment. If you apply to a college via an e.d. program, you will be expected to attend if the college admits you, assuming it is possible for your family to pay the cost (few colleges will hold you to an e.d. commitment if they are unable to provide enough financial aid for you to be able to afford the cost of attendance so don't let that stop you from appyling e.d. to a place you really like). In both cases, you are completing your application earlier than the standard admission deadline and, in turn, receiving a decision from the school on an accelerated timetable. Applying e.a. does not bind you to attending any particular school, so you may apply e.a. to more than one school. Logically, since you are making a commitment to attend a particular institution if admitted under an e.d. program, it would be unethical to apply to more than one school at a time through an e.d. option because you cannot attend more than one college.

Patricia Aviezer
President Inside Track To College, Inc.

What exactly are the differences between early action and early decision?

The difference between Early Action (EA) and Early Decision (ED) is simple. Early Decision is a binding agreement between the student who is applying and the college that they are applying to that if accepted, they agree to enter that college. A form is signed in front of your guidance counselor attesting to this fact and you counselor signs it as well. Both EA and ED plans have early deadline dates, usually not later than November 1st. Colleges and universities may offer one option or another, either an ED plan or an EA plan, but there are colleges that offer both options. So it's important to familiarize yourself with their policies. Some colleges and universities even have and ED1 and ED 2 or an EA1 or EA2. To add to the confusion, some colleges have policies that limit your Early Action options. This policy is called an "REA Plan" or Restrictive Early Action" option. This limits you to applying to only one college under this plan. The decision about whether to apply to any college early is a serious one which should only be made after you've had the opportunity to visit the college, research all of your other options, and are convinced that you'll be happy with your decision on acceptance!

Ryan Aldrich
Director of College Counseling The White Mountain School

What exactly are the differences between early action and early decision?

Early Action and Early Decision It is important to understand the various policies for students who wish to pursue Early Action and/or Early Decision programs. Early Decision –Early decision plans allow you to apply early (usually in November) and get an admission decision well in advance of the usual notification date. These Early Decision plans are “binding”, which means if you apply early as an early decision candidate, you agree to attend the college if it accepts you and offers an adequate financial aid package. Although you can apply to only one college for early decision, you may apply to other colleges under regular admission. If you're accepted by your first-choice college early, you must withdraw all other applications. Usually, colleges insist on a nonrefundable deposit well before May 1. Early Action -- Early action plans are similar to early decision plans in that you can learn early in the admission cycle (usually in January or February) whether a college has accepted you. But unlike early decision, most early action plans are not binding, meaning you do NOT have to commit to a college to which you've applied for early action. Under these plans, you may apply to other colleges. Usually, you can let the college know of your decision in the late spring or whenever you've decided. Early Decision II – A second round of Early Decision, one applies typically in January and is notified of results typically in early February. If the student is admitted they are committed to attend. One must simultaneously submit regular decision applications. A student can apply ED II after being denied or deferred ED I by another college. Single Choice Early Action -Some colleges have begun offering a new admissions option called single-choice early action. This plan works the same way as other early action plans, but with single-choice, candidates may not apply early (either early action or early decision) to any other school. You can still apply to other schools regular decision and are not required to give your final answer of acceptance until the regular decision deadline. This allows you to compare offers of financial aid in the spring before making a commitment.

Benjamin Caldarelli
Partner Princeton College Consulting, LLC

What exactly are the differences between early action and early decision?

A student may apply Early Decision to just one college. If the student is admitted, he or she must attend. A student may apply Early Action to multiple colleges and if admitted, is not obligated to attend. A student may only apply to one school Early Action school, however, if that school is a "single choice" school. While you can only apply to one, you are not obligated to attend if admitted.

Lora Lewis
Educational Consultant Lora Lewis Consulting

What exactly are the differences between early action and early decision?

Early admission programs give you the chance to express your sincere desire to attend a certain school (or schools) and also have the added benefit of letting you know whether or not you were accepted in mid-December of your senior year. Early Action is a non-binding agreement. You can apply to as many schools EA as you like (though some schools do have restrictions; be sure to read the applications carefully). Because EA expresses your strong desire to attend but doesn't ask you to make a commitment, it carries a bit less weight than Early Decision. Early Decision is a binding agreement. You can only apply to ONE school early decision. When you sign the dotted line, you are committing to attend the college if you are accepted. You should only use an ED option if you are absolutely, positively sure it is your number one school and you will be jumping for joy if you get in. ED is not to be trifled with, but it can be a valuable tool for those who know where they want to go and are looking for a little extra edge to show how seriously they want to attend.

Sarah Contomichalos
Manager Educational Advisory Services, LLC

What exactly are the differences between early action and early decision?

Early decision (ED) is binding and if accepted the student must withdraw all other applications. Early action (EA) is not binding and the student is free to apply to other colleges and does not have to accept the EA offer until May 1st.

Rebecca Joseph
Executive Director & Founder getmetocollege.org

What exactly are the differences between early action and early decision?

EARLY ACTION=NOT BINDING. EARLY DECISION: BINDING. Many kids want to apply early and find out out from a college. Students typically apply in October and November and find out before Christmas. If they apply EARLY DECISION, they must attend that college and pull out applications from others. EARLY ACTION applicants, do not have to attend if they get in. Early applications tend to privilege those who can afford college as Early DECISION is legally binding, and families have to be willing to accept the one financial aid package. They also privilege kids who do not need to rely on senior year fall grades, late fall test scores, and other factors to help promote them. EARLY DECISION acceptance rates tend to be much higher than regular acceptance rates. EARLY ACTION rates are not often that different. So families and kids have major decisions to make.

Edward LaMeire
CEO LaMeire College Consulting (lameirecollegeconsulting.com)

What exactly are the differences between early action and early decision?

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!

Janelle Braverman
Educational Consultant Independent University Advisors, LLC

What exactly are the differences between early action and early decision?

Because there may be several different deadlines throughout an admission cycle, it is important to understand what they mean. Often institutions will give their applicants an opportunity to apply during the fall of their senior year, around November, and then early in the spring semester, often but not in all cases on January 1 or January 15. Usually fall deadlines are considered ‘early.’ This is where you will hear early action and early decision. Both options allow you to apply earlier in the school year and receive notification by December. The main distinction is that if you apply early decision and are admitted, you are required to enroll. By contrast, applying early action is non-binding. Even if you are admitted, you do not have to decide until late in the spring after you have the opportunity to weigh other options. Students can only apply to one school early decision. Deciding to apply early decision means that the institution is absolutely your number 1 choice. Additionally, you and your family are willing to accept whatever financial aid package you are offered without the leverage of financial aid offers from other institutions. It’s useful to note that institutions may even have more than one early application deadline or they might have a hybrid version like Single-Choice Early Action, which allows you to apply early through a non-binding program but you may not apply to any other binding programs offered at other private institutions. The variation continues to evolve, so check with the institution directly for their most current policies.