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Should I Apply to College Early Decision or Early Action?

Early Decision, Early Action, or Single-Choice Early Action? Each mean something entirely different. Find out which is right for you.

Jarrid James Whitney, Ed.M.Jarrid James Whitney, EdM
Executive Director of Admissions and Financial Aid
California Institute of Technology

When considering applying to a school under one of these programs, the first thing to keep in mind is that the application deadlines will traditionally be earlier in your senior year than a typical Regular Decision program. Once you feel comfortable with the deadline(s), then think whether or not the actual early program fits your needs. Early Decision, for instance, is a binding program. Thus if you are admitted, you are expected to enroll, so please do your financial aid homework early to make sure your family can afford this school option. Also keep in mind you cannot apply elsewhere, unless denied, so make sure you have your applications to other schools at least somewhat prepared in case you are not offered admission.

Early Action is always a safe option because it’s non-binding. But if you think EA gives you a better chance of admission, think again. Each school has its own priorities for admitting a class, and EA may not necessarily be an easier admission route despite what the acceptance rate looks like. Ask the college what the profile of the applicant pool/admitted pool looks like for EA, and you may just find that the EA pool is stronger group of applicants.

Single Choice Early Action is a great benefit program for those schools that offer it; it’s non-binding, you find out typically before the holiday break, but you are not allowed to apply to any other school in early. Thus, select this program judiciously depending on if you really are considering this school as one of your top options. And as I wrote already, ask the school for its profile of its early pool. But even with SCEA, you still have the option of applying Regular Decision even if you are admitted.

Cyndy McDonaldCyndy McDonald
Higher Educational Consultants Association (HECA)

Be aware of Early Decision versus Early Action—each means something entirely different. Choosing the one right for you is dependent on how well you know the college, your desire to be admitted to the school, and the other choices you are considering. Not everyone needs a Early Decision or even an Early Action school choice.

Stephanie FarahStephanie Farah
Former Writer and Senior Editor
Some seniors might assume that applying early will exponentially boost your chances of being accepted, but every applicant is different and several factors should be considered.

  • Benefits: Students who apply early generally receive an admission decision in December, while students who apply Regular decision won’t hear back until around April or later. Having college plans sorted sooner than later can give stressed seniors some peace of mind. Often students who apply early are more likely to be accepted. For example, it’s in a school’s best interest to admit students who apply Early Decision because they’ll be required to attend.
  • Drawbacks: Early Decision plans can be tricky because they’re binding, and you won’t be able to consider other schools until you hear back from that one school. Early Decision is especially ill-advised for students using financial aid as they won’t be able to consider other aid packages when making a final decision. Seniors working to improve their grades also may not want to apply early, since you’ll only have transcripts through junior year.

Only if you’re absolutely certain you want to attend a given school and confident in your credentials should you apply Early Decision. You should also still consider applying to other schools by the Regular deadlines to ensure you’re accepted to at least one school.

For more information on applying to college early, explore our content on College Admission!

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