Originally Posted: Oct 4, 2017
Last Updated: Jul 21, 2020
As senior year of high school approaches, students may begin to wonder what type of application they should submit when applying for colleges. What? You didn’t know there was more than one way to apply to college? Options vary from Regular Decision to Early Action to Early Decision. What’s the difference, and why does it matter? All options aren’t going to be perfect for you, so here’s what I have come to know about these options. Hopefully, this will help you discover which options is best for you and make your college admission planning a little bit easier!
Regular Decision pros
Those applying Regular Decision will have a later deadline to submit their application (typically anywhere from early December to late January). This may be the best option for you if you are planning on retaking the ACT or SAT for a higher score to increase your chances of being accepted or to be eligible for more scholarships. Applying Regular Decision also gives one more time to perfect those college essays. Choosing to apply Regular Decision can give you more time to discover what you want to study too, especially if you are on the fence between a few majors—though you also have the option to apply as undecided and explore your options in college.
Regular Decision cons
If applying Regular Decision, you may not hear back from the college or university until the spring or at the end of the school year. This may make graduation season a bit more hectic as you realize you will be packing your bags to head off somewhere in roughly three months. Making the decision of where to attend college in late spring could potentially add to the stress of AP exams and finals as well.
Early Action pros
Applying Early Action typically gets you an admission decision in the mail by mid-December. Therefore, you can get your college applications finished in the first semester of high school and focus on things like scholarships during second semester. Applying Early Action is also considered “non-binding,” so if accepted, you do not have to go to that college as opposed to Early Decision, which is like a “binding contract” with the college/university. Applying Early Decision is similar to early action, but if accepted, you must attend that college/university, which is why if you go that route, it’s best to choose this option for your very top-choice school.
The main perk of Early Action is for you to find out whether or not you are accepted while still having until May 1 to make an official decision. Personally, as a senior in high school, I have been applying Early Action so I can have an idea of where I will be going by Christmastime. I find this fitting for me because it will be nice to have my future planned and then focus on finishing the second semester of senior year strong. (I will also be able to answer the many questions about college from all of my family—phew!)
Early Action cons
Applying Early Action means the application deadline is a month or two sooner than the Regular Decision deadline. College essays must be prepared and edited in less time as well (since most colleges’ essay questions come out August 1, regardless of how you are applying). Also, for some colleges, the pool of applicants for Early Action may have higher test scores than the college/university’s average, making it more difficult to get in. One example of this is the University of Notre Dame’s Early Action applicant pool. I have a friend wanting to apply Early Action but found out through admissions it is more difficult to be accepted now than it would be to apply Regular Decision.
Another thing to look out for is whether or not you would be deferred (declined as an Early applicant but not yet denied) and have your application reviewed again after the Regular Decision deadline. Some colleges/universities may do this, but others may not. Be sure to ask the admission office if being denied as an Early applicant means you'll get a second chance at having your application considered.
Which will you choose?
Keep in mind that the different application options depend on the college you’re applying to. Some may only offer Regular Decision and Early Action, while other colleges may have a rolling deadline and begin to mail decisions two weeks after receiving your application. Two universities I applied to opened their applications on August 1; decisions were sent out just several weeks later, and all applications were entered into the same pool. Not all deadlines are the same for every college/university, so be sure to check out the undergraduate admissions page of your top schools to find specific details about the types of applications and deadlines for each.
Find out if your colleges of interest offer a variety of admission plans using our College Search tool.