The Pros and Cons of Applying Early

The early bird gets the worm. Or does it? This trite old adage might hold true at breakfast buffets and sample sales, but when it comes to college applications, this may not be the case.

Senior Assistant Editor, Wintergreen Orchard House

Originally Posted: Sep 9, 2011
Last Updated: Nov 9, 2015

The Pros and Cons of Applying Early

The early bird gets the worm. Or does it? This trite old adage might hold true at breakfast buffets and sample sales, but when it comes to college applications, this may not be the case. Some of your go-getting seniors might assume that applying early will exponentially boost their chances of being accepted, but every applicant is different and several factors should be considered.

There are three main options for applying early:

Early Decision: Binding. Student may apply to only one school.

Early Action: Non-binding. Student may apply to multiple schools.

Single-Choice Early Action: Non-binding. Student may apply to only one school.


Students who apply early generally receive an admissions decision in December, while students who apply by the regular deadline won’t hear back until around April. Having their college plans sorted out sooner than later can give stressed seniors some much-needed peace of mind. Also, it’s possible that 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. Research admissions figures at various schools and you’ll find that, in some instances, a higher percentage of early applicants are admitted versus regular applicants.


Early Decision plans in particular can be tricky because they are binding and students won’t be able to consider other schools until they hear back from their first decision. Early Decision is especially ill-advised for students who will be using financial aid, since they won’t be able to consider other schools’ financial aid packages when making a final decision. Seniors working to improve their grades also may not want to apply early, since they’ll have to submit their transcripts through their junior year only. And since early deadlines are in the fall, students have less time to get all of their application materials in order.

Should your students apply early?

Only students who are absolutely certain that they want to attend a given school should apply Early Decision. Students applying through any early option should be confident in their credentials and the quality of things like essays and portfolios that may be required with their applications. They should also consider applying to other schools by the regular deadlines to ensure they’ll be accepted to at least one school.

Early application policies vary from school to school, and some have stopped offering these options altogether. If you have students interested in getting their applications out of the way, you can help them by researching the schools’ policies and making sure they’ll be able to put together winning applications in a short amount of time.

Want to get a jump start? Check out the College Admissions Data Hyper-Handbook--all the dates, deadlines, and other college stats your students need on an easy-to-use CD-ROM!

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About Stephanie Farah

Stephanie Farah

Stephanie is a Writer and Senior Editor at Wintergreen Orchard House, where she manages the collection of data from schools in the Northeast and Midwest regions. Stephanie holds a B.A. in English from the University of Texas at Austin and a master's in journalism from the University of North Texas. At various times she has been: an uncertain undergrad, a financial aid recipient, a transfer applicant, and a grad student with an assistantship and a full ride. Stephanie is an avid writer, traveler, cook, and dog owner. She looks forward to sharing her experiences with college-bound students and the counselors guiding them along the way!  

You can circle Stephanie on Google+, follow her on Twitter, or subscribe to her CollegeXpress blog.


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