Early Decision/Early Action in College Admissions: by Jill Haley

High school seniors are getting ready to make one of the most important decisions in their lives: where to apply to college. With over 2,000 4-year colleges to choose from in the United States, this can be a daunting decision. To make matters more complicated, many schools offer different types of application options. These options include early decision (ED) or early action (EA) and are primarily used at private colleges. With EA and ED you apply earlier than the regular deadline and are notified of acceptance earlier. Sound great? Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantage of applying early.

Keep in mind that there is one significant difference between the two options: early action is a non-binding application, which simply requires a response by a certain date that you will attend that college. There is no penalty if you decide to attend another college by the May first deadline. Early decision requires that the applicant agree to a binding commitment to attend the following year and withdraw all other applications if accepted.

Early action may be the best option for you if you have a particular college in mind, but would also like to keep your options open or get a better financial aid offer at another school. Another advantage is that colleges may have higher acceptance rates for early action applicants. For example, last year Emerson College accepted 47% of their EA applicants and Gonzaga College accepted 79% of their EA applicants. Colleges like to nail down their prospective students early, and they know that many students stop applying to other schools once they’ve been accepted. Some possible disadvantages of EA are that colleges will not be able to see your fall SAT/ACT test scores or the first semester grades of your senior year before making the decision to admit you. If you are a student who is banking on higher test scores in the fall or want colleges to see your senior year GPA, early action may not be your best option.

Early decision may be the best option if you have done your research and decided on your top choice. Keep in mind that while most colleges will disclose your financial aid award when accepted in ED, you will not be able to compare offers from other schools. That said, it can be a terrific option that can significantly decrease your senior year stress if you are accepted early. An important factor to consider is that colleges often admit their top-notch students through early decision. This can be a bit of a risk to applicants because the applicant pool can be quite competitive. Many highly-selective ED schools defer only a small amount of students to regular admissions if not selected in the ED pool, so applying ED may be more risky than applying regular decision.

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