What is Early Decision? "Many colleges and some universities have admission plans that enable you to make a commitment to attend the school if you are accepted. This process of application and admission (or rejection or deferral) comes before the regular deadlines and is called Early Decision.”1 Early Decision (ED) is a legally binding contract and you are obligated to attend that institution regardless of the size of the financial aid package that they award to you.*
What is Early Action? "A fair number of colleges and universities offer a program called Early Action. It follows the same calendar as Early Decision but does not require a binding commitment from the candidate when he or she is accepted. Rather, the candidate can then go on and apply to other colleges.”1
* Every institution is slightly different in the way that they implement their Early Decision/Early Action programs. Some institutions will allow ED variance if financial need (as determined by the federal government) is not met and some EA programs require ‘sole choice’, i.e., you can only pick one institution to apply to early. As it varies by school, please read thoroughly the information for the institution to which you are considering applying early.
Pros and Cons of Applying to College Early
Bypass regular spring notification deadline
Avoid cost of submitting multiple applications
Reduce time spent waiting for a decision
Have to deal with less stress if accepted
May increase chances of getting into top schools; greatly increase chances of getting into less selective schools (IF a competitive student)
Must make serious decision before exploring all options
Can only apply to one school
Can't turn back
May not have time or opportunity to compare financial aid packages
May have no or fewer aid options
Have few scholarship options
Sometimes compete with a smaller but much stronger pool of candidates than during the regular application period
If rejected, may feel great disappointment and discouragement
Early Decision Self-Evaluation Questionnaire2
Have I completely researched this college and other colleges that interest me?
Have I visited this college while classes are in session and met with someone at the admission office?
Have I explored my academic, extracurricular, and social options at this college?
Have I talked with a financial aid officer to get an estimate of college costs and to find out how early decision could affect my aid package?
Have I discussed this decision with my family and guidance counselor?
Is this a true first choice, or do other colleges still interest me?
Applying to an ED or EA plan is not appropriate for a student who
Has not thoroughly researched and visited colleges
Is applying early just to avoid stress and paperwork
Is not fully committed to attending the schools to which he or she is applying
Is only applying early because friends are
Needs a strong senior fall semester to bring his or her grades up
Early Decision/Early Action Candidate Timeline
Work on and complete applications
Get teachers to fill out recommendation forms
File early decision or early action applications according to school deadlines and procedures
Take SAT or ACT if necessary (Note: October is the last test date that will make scores available in time for early decision and early action programs)
If necessary, register for CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE online (www.collegeboard.com)
Continue filing early decision or early action applications according to specific school deadlines
Follow up with teacher recommendations
Work on regular-decision applications as a backup if you don't get in early decision or early action
File the CSS PROFILE form and any other college-based financial aid forms that may be required of early decision candidates
*From the College Board website with excerpts from 1Petersons The Insider’s Guide to College Admissions and 2NACAC's Steps to College online newsletter.