Early Decision and Early Action in the College Admissions Process
There are two different types of early admissions processes by which prospective students can seek admission to institutions of higher learning. These processes are known as early action and early decision. They differ from regular college and university admissions processes in that the student both applies earlier and gets an acceptance decision earlier as well. Early admissions programs are options that are available in most of the country’s top universities. These processes are ideal for students with excellent grades and SAT scores, as well as those who are sure of what college they want to attend. While early action and early decision are in some ways similar, they do have significant differences that students should be aware of.
The early action process is one in which the student submits an application to a college, usually by the first day of November in their senior year of high school. A student who receives a notice of acceptance may wait until Spring to commit to the college. In addition, they may also make early decision applications to other schools at the same time. Additionally, this will allow the student to pursue more options for financial aid. It is for this reason that early action applications are called non-binding processes. There is another type of early action process called single-choice early action, which is more restrictive. Under the single-choice option, the student cannot make early action nor early decision applications to other colleges. They may still decline to commit to a single-choice college that accepts their application, however.
When a student applies to a college under the early decision option, it is with the assumption that they have specifically chosen that college and are ready to make an obligation to attend. A student can only make an early decision application to one college and may not apply to others, except under their regular admissions cycle or unrestricted early action application. Unlike with early action applications, if a college accepts a student’s early decision application, the student must immediately withdraw their admissions applications to all other schools. A student cannot back out of this agreement without penalties, including the likelihood of being ineligible for admissions at other colleges. Students without significant financial resources may want to think twice before applying under the early decision option, since they may later find that the school’s financial aid offer is insufficient to cover the cost of the program. Early decision admissions programs are subject to controversy over the perception that they are favorable to rich candidates who have less of a need for financial aid. Early decision applicants are typically wealthier than early action or regular action candidates.
There are advantages and disadvantages to the early admissions process in general. A student who has received a notice of acceptance of an early action or early decision application won’t have to contend with the stress of the college applications process throughout their senior year. An early decision or early action application lets a college or university know that a student is highly interested in the school, which inherently makes their application more favorable. An early application student has three to four times the chance of being admitted versus regular admissions applicants. If a student’s application is not accepted they will have time to apply at other colleges. On the other hand, early admissions candidates are highly competitive, and applications that stand out during regular admissions might not look so superior against other early decision or early action applicants. In addition, a student may decide that one college is ideal for them, but then change their mind, in which case the regular admissions process would give them more time to decide.
Early admissions, particularly early action and early decision, have become an increasingly common part of the college admission process. These programs are offered by many universities and differ from regular admissions. Because one is binding, students must understand the differences between the two before taking advantage of either option. For students who are interested in schools with these programs, their level of commitment towards a specific university will help them to make a decision in which program will work best for them. The pros and cons of both are also something that students should understand when it comes time to deciding on the college that they wish to attend.
To read more about early decision and early action, please review the following links.
- US News Education: Decide if an Early Decision College Application is the Right Choice
- Harvard College Office of Admissions - Single Choice Early Action: An Overview of Early Admission Programs
- Forbes: Advice on Applying to Top U.S. Colleges Via Early Decision or Early Action
- Washington High School: Early Action versus Early Decision
- HBCU Lifestyle - Applying for College: Choosing Early Decision vs. Early Action
- Oak Park USD: Students: Which College Admission Process Best Suits You?
- Belmont High School: Should You Apply Early Decision
- What Do These Terms Mean?: Early Decision vs. Early Action (PDF)
- College Applications - Early Decisions? Early Action? (PDF)
- Early Action and Early Decision Admissions (PDF)
- The Pros and Cons of Early Admissions (PDF)