How to Apply Early Decison or Early Action

Posted on 5th October 2017

The different options for applying to college in the US and the terms they use can be quite confusing. So what's the difference between Early Action and Early Decision?

As we head towards the November 1st early application deadlines, it’s a good opportunity to understand the differences between Early Action and Early Decision and the advantages and disadvantages of both.

Early Decision is a binding arrangement in which you promise to attend that institution, if offered a place. You can only apply to one college Early Decision. The upside to this is that you can demonstrate your commitment to a university if you know that it’s the place for you. You can also significantly boost your chances of acceptance, particularly at Ivy League colleges and liberal arts colleges that offer Early Decision, such as UPenn, Columbia, and Williams.

The downsides of Early Decision are that you give up your freedom of choice for this security, and you can’t change your mind about the institution later. It can also be a tricky arrangement if you need financial aid of some sort to go to college, as you will get the decision and commit to the institution before a financial aid package is in place. However, it’s a great option if you’re dedicated to a particular college and know you’ll be able to finance your education there.

Early Action is a non-binding arrangement in which you do not commit to attend an institution but still get your decision in December. Some of the highest ranked private colleges (Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and Stanford) offer a Restrictive Early Action policy, in which you can only apply to that private university early and no other. Many of these colleges recruit significantly in the early round, with Princeton and Yale filling way above 50% of these places through their REA programme.

The advantages of Early Action are the comparative freedom compared to Early Decision, combined with the significant boost in your chances of acceptance. This can be over three times in terms of some Ivy League colleges. Princeton, for example, has a 5% acceptance rate in the regular round of applications, but an 18% chance in the early round.

The disadvantage of Restrictive Early Action is that you can only apply to one college early. A lot of these colleges are very competitive, so if you don’t get in early it could be seen as a missed opportunity. There are very few disadvantages to non-restrictive Early Action!

There are three outcomes to Early Action and Early Decision: Accepted, Rejected, and Deferred. If you get deferred, you’ll still be considered with the other applicants in the regular round. Some colleges (notably Stanford) defer a lot of students, because these aren’t considered in their acceptance rate. At some colleges you also have the option of Early Decision II, when you apply at the same time as your regular colleges but get another chance at a binding application.

It’s great to be organised enough to apply to one college early, but it’s important to make those choices with all the right information. If you are applying early, make sure you put in a targeted, realistic, well-considered application. This will make sure you make the most of the benefits of applying early.

Contact us if you need any help on applying early!
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