College Admissions

Early Action vs Early Decision – What’s Right for You?

Early Action vs Early Decision – What’s Right for You?
By Tonya DuBois

First, let me explain the difference between Early Action (EA) and Early Decision (ED).  Early Action is when you apply to a college at some early due date (typically in October or November of Senior year) and you hear back on the admission decision early too (typically Mid-December); you have no commitment to enroll.  Early Decision is the same, except that it is binding – you are obligated to attend the college if admitted, and you often need to make that decision prior to the typical May 1 deadline.  By contrast, regular decision deadlines are usually January/February with admission notification in March/April.

Early Action     (EA)     Non-Binding

Early Decision (ED)     Binding

Here are answers to some of the most common questions I am asked about Early Action and Early Decision.  And, below is an abbreviated and easy-to-follow chart, which outlines the same information:

  1. Is there an admission advantage to applying EA or ED? It is always an admission office’s goal to have a high yield – a high number of accepted applicants who enroll.  With this in mind, a guaranteed admit from an acceptance (ED) does tend to give an admissions edge, especially if your GPA, test scores, etc. already fall within the school’s admission standards.  Early Action sometimes offers a slight bump as well, but the statistics are not as persuasive.  In either case, you are demonstrating a high level of interest in the school (something that it tracked); therefore, if you are deferred to the regular admission pool, you have that one additional factor working in your favor.
  2. While applying ED to a school, may I simultaneously apply EA elsewhere? Usually, yes.  It’s important to check with each individual school’s specific policy.
  3. While applying EA, may I apply to multiple schools EA? Usually, yes – you may apply to as many schools as you wish EA, unless the school specifies that they have a “single choice early action” plan.  A singe choice early action plan prohibits you from applying anywhere else early.
  4. Does applying ED put me at a disadvantage to negotiate Financial Aid, since I’m obligated to go there? Yes – applying ED puts you at a distinct disadvantage in the financial aid process.  You will only have one Financial Aid offer, with no ability to compare offers, or negotiate.
  5. If I apply early and am not accepted, is there enough time to start preparing other applications? Not much!  If you apply early and are not accepted, it’s a good idea to have at least a few other applications prepared and ready to go.  If you apply early, you should learn of your admission decision and financial aid package in mid-December.  Some regular application deadlines are in January, some in February (sometimes as early as January 1).
  6. If I apply ED or EA, will October SAT I or SAT II test scores make it in time for consideration? What about November tests?  October tests will typically make it in time, but you should check with the individual schools on their policies.  November test scores usually will not (depending on the school’s deadline).  When you complete your application, you should indicate “future test date” so the college is alerted that they are awaiting additional scores.  With the addition of a new August SAT test date, it’s a great opportunity to take tests one final time then, if you are applying EA or ED.  By doing your final testing in August, you won’t have to be stressed about whether or not the colleges will get your scores in time.
  7. Are there any down-sides to applying ED? There are a few down-sides.  First, you will not be in a good position to compare or negotiate financial aid packages.  Second, you cannot change your mind.  You must go there if accepted. 
  8. Are there any down-sides to applying EA? There are no significant downsides to applying early action.  The only time I would encourage you to wait, is if you feel you could benefit from another round of standardized testing, or another semester of grades.  Early Action is a fantastic opportunity – you can get all of your applications finished in the summer before senior year and have a relatively stress-free experience, allowing you to focus on your course work and your grades.  Additionally, if you receive multiple acceptances, you’ll have plenty of time to make campus visits to help you make your decision.

Early Actions is a no-brainer.  If the schools you are applying to allow it, then apply Early Action to as many schools as you can.  Early Decision, on the other hand, is a very serious commitment.  Because the acceptance will be binding, you should only apply Early Decision if you have a clear-cut first choice after having investigated many colleges and visited plenty of campuses to compare them.  Do not make this very important decision just to avoid the headache of multiple college applications.  And, especially do not consider applying ED if you will rely heavily on financial aid. 

Please keep in mind that no matter where you apply, or when you apply, each college has requirements regarding your academic and disciplinary standing at the completion of your senior year.  Getting in early does not mean that you can coast through the rest of your senior year getting sub-par grades, nor does it mean that you can get lax on following the rules.  Everything you do after your college acceptance can still have an impact on whether or not your school of choice will allow you to matriculate in the Fall.  Enjoy your senior year, but continue to hold yourself to the same standard you always have.



Early Decision (Binding)

Early Action (Non-Binding)

Is there an admission advantage to applying early?




When applying early, may I apply early elsewhere?

Usually, when applying ED, you may apply EA elsewhere (though always check the school’s policy)

Usually, when applying EA, you may apply EA elsewhere, except in “single choice EA” plans (always check the school’s policy)

Does applying early put me at a disadvantage re. Financial Aid?



If I apply early and am not accepted, is there enough time to start preparing other applications? 

Not much, but yes

Not much, but yes

If I apply ED or EA, will October SAT I or SAT II test scores make it in time for consideration?  What about November tests?

Usually October tests will make the deadline and November tests will not.  The best option is to take August SAT tests

Usually October tests will make the deadline and November tests will not.  The best option is to take August SAT tests

Are there any downsides to applying early?

1.     You will not be in a good position to negotiate financial aid.

2.     You can’t change your mind


Not any significant downsides.