Applying to College: Early Action or Early Decision?

The differences among early college application processes

This article was written by BE Smart Contributor Chelsea L. Dixon, M.S., M.A.T. For more about the author, see her bio at the end of the article.

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Many colleges and universities offer early admissions options; however, before deciding to apply early to your school of choice, make sure you understand all the implications. The most common early admissions programs are described below.

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Early Action
The Early Action application process, as the name implies, allows you to apply to an institution earlier (usually in early November) than the regular admissions deadline. In return, the school will inform you of your admissions status much earlier, typically between mid-December and February. As an Early Action applicant you may apply to as many colleges as you’d like and still have until May 1 to accept an offer. Early Action is non-binding: If you are admitted you are not required to attend. For example, see Hampton University: http://admissions.hamptonu.edu/page/Admission-Requirements-for-Freshman-Students.

 Early Decision
Early Decision is the most restrictive of the early application processes. Like Early Action, if you apply Early Decision you are submitting your application earlier (early November) in return for an earlier admissions decision (mid- to late December). However, unlike with Early Action, you can only apply to one institution as Early Decision. If you are admitted you must accept the offer and withdraw all applications to other schools because the decision is binding. The only way to decline an Early Decision offer is if the institution’s financial aid package is not adequate to make attending feasible. For example, see Spelman College: http://www.spelman.edu/admissions/applying-to-spelman/first-time-student-applicant.

Early Decision II
Some institutions have two Early Decision application processes, Early Decision I and Early Decision II. The difference between the two is timing. Early Decision I has an earlier deadline for submitting applications; thus, those who apply Early Decision I will receive an earlier admissions decision. However, Early Decision II applicants will receive an earlier admissions decision than those applying through the regular admissions process. You can only apply to one institution as Early Decision I or Early Decision II, and the decision is binding. If you are admitted, you must withdraw all applications submitted to other institutions. For example, see George Washington University: http://undergraduate.admissions.gwu.edu/early-decision

Single Choice Early Action or Restrictive Early Action
Single Choice Early Action or Restrictive Early Action is a non-binding application option that generally restricts you from applying to more than one institution during the Early Action period (although some schools allow you to apply Early Action to public or state institutions as long as their offers are non-binding). Once Single Choice Early Action or Restrictive Early Action admission decisions have been made and mailed out by the institution, you are free to apply to as many colleges as you’d like during the regular admissions process. If you are admitted by your Single Choice Early Action or Restrictive Early Action institution, you are not obligated to attend. For example, see Princeton University: http://admission.princeton.edu/applyingforadmission/single-choice-early-action.

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