Early Action or Early Decision: Is it right for you?

By Lwilliams

There are some great advantages to getting an early start, and applying to college is no exception. Each year, approximately 450 colleges and universities offer students the opportunity to apply through either Early Action or Early Decision. By submitting your application early, you may receive your decision months before those who applied through the regular admissions process. As a high school senior, nothing is more stressful than waiting on that acceptance letter during the spring semester (well, that and maybe final exams). Being able to have this information before winter break can not only reduce your stress, but also free up some time to focus on other things, such as searching for scholarships and planning for graduation. It may also save you hundreds of dollars in college application fees since you won't be applying to several schools. Before you consider either Early Decision or Early Action, though, you should first review the specific requirements and understand the obligations associated with each of these admissions decisions.

Early Action

  • Application deadlines typically in October and November
  • Students can still apply to other colleges (Regular Decision/Early Action)
  • Decisions usually sent between December and February
  • Students have until the national deadline, May 1, to make a decision
  • Not binding

Early Decision

  • Application deadlines typically in October and November
  • Can only apply to one college (Early Action or Early Decision)
  • May apply to other colleges through Regular Decision
  • Decisions received before January
  • If accepted, students must withdraw all applications from other colleges
  • May have to commit without seeing a financial aid package
  • Binding

Another benefit of applying early is that the acceptance rate tends to be higher. For example, 18.43 percent of students who applied to Harvard University through Single-Choice Early Action (another option where students can only apply early to one school) were admitted compared to only a 3.76 percent of those who had applied through the regular admissions process. Unfortunately, if you are not accepted, you may find yourself scrambling to submit applications to alternate colleges before the regular application date, as you may only have a few weeks to apply.

Early Action and Early Decision may be beneficial if you have already met the grade point average and test score requirements for admissions, and if you are sure of where you would like to attend college. Since you most likely will need to commit prior to receiving your financial aid package, make sure you have the necessary resources to pay your college tuition and fees, as you may find that the college does not offer sufficient aid to cover all your expenses.

Regardless of which type of application you chose to submit, make sure to review your options, weigh the consequences, and decide which will give you the best opportunity to achieve your goals.