Early Action vs. Early Decision: What's the Difference?

Frustrated student in an orange shirt looking at her laptop deciding between early action vs. early decision
Updated:
February 14, 2024
5 min read
Contents

”Rohan

Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 11/24/23

What is early action vs. early decision? And is there a difference between early action and regular decision? In this article, we’ll not only answer these questions but explain the benefits and drawbacks of both early decision (ED) and early action (EA). We'll cover the pros and cons for each, tips on which to choose, and more! Read on to learn about your options!

Applying for college is an exciting but stressful process. Navigating the various challenges of the process, such as meeting tight deadlines, making a good impression in college essays, and scoring high on standardized tests, can be daunting for any applicant. 

Thankfully, colleges have simplified their application process and made it more manageable for students. Tools such as the Common College Application and the Coalition Application allow students to apply to multiple colleges with ease. 

Many institutions also now offer rolling admissions or have created an early submission option. By giving students the option to submit their applications at an earlier date, schools allow you to cut down on admission stress.

To help you decide which plan is right for you, this article will break down everything you need to know about both early action and early decision. Let’s begin!

What is Early Action? 

So, what are early action college applications? 

Early action is simply an application option for those who wish to apply before regular admission opens and receive their admission decision earlier than the regular response date. There are several pros of early action applications: 

  • Early action is non-binding, which means students can apply to other schools' early action programs if they wish and do not have to commit until the regular decision deadline. 
  • Early action can reduce stress. By applying early, you are cutting down your wait time to hear back from colleges.
  • Early action can give you more time. Applying early means you will hear back sooner, which means you have more time to apply to other schools or, if you accept, look for housing or employment.  

Remember that a variant of early action is also called restrictive early action or single-choice early action. If students apply through this option, they cannot apply for any other school through early action. Restrictive early action applications are still non-binding when it comes to accepting an offer.

A female student smiling in a library

What is Early Decision?

Most colleges offer two options for submitting applications before the regular deadline: early action and early decision. 

  • Early decision, unlike early action, is binding. If you applied through early decision and got accepted, you must forfeit all other applications and commit to the school in question.
  • Early decision communicates interest and commitment. By applying through early decision, students are telling that school they are serious about attending, which looks good on an application.  

Early decision is a great option if you're certain about what school you want to attend. Our database tool can help you discover early decision acceptance notification dates for tons of different schools! 

Early Action vs. Early Decision: Which One Should You Choose?

While we have defined both early action and early decision, how are you supposed to know which option is right for you? To answer this, let’s explore the advantages and disadvantages of early action vs. early decision.

Early Action Pros and Cons

Early action gives you more freedom; you can apply to multiple schools and ultimately choose where you want to go. After receiving all your offers, you get to weigh your options and circumstances and decide which school is best for you. 

However, there’s a potential disadvantage with applying early; you have less time to prepare for components of your application, such as the ACT or SAT, extracurricular activities, and personal statements

blank notebook

Early Decision Pros and Cons

Early decision removes your ability to choose where you go. You must turn down all other admission offers, no matter how much you want to accept them. This also means you do not get to compare financial aid awards offered by other colleges, which could be awful if your financial situation isn’t good. 

Like early action, you will have less time to gather application requirements. There’s a chance you may also end up being deferred

However, one good thing is that applying through early decision shows that you are serious about attending the school. 

You can potentially increase your chances of getting admitted through early decision application. Being accepted through early decision also means you don’t have to face the pressure of choosing which school to attend, which can be a load-off for many students!

The Benefits of Applying Early

Clock on table

Applying earlier gives you a headstart on your other applications, whether you’re applying early decision vs early action. Early action and early decision usually open in November. This may prevent you from missing other important deadlines

When you apply early, applying to other colleges during the regular admission window becomes easier; you’ve already secured key components like your test scores and letters of recommendation. You will also receive your admission decisions earlier. This can provide peace of mind as you can plan for your future more effectively. 

If you’re accepted into your top school, you can wrap up your college search and focus on other tasks, such as finalizing your housing arrangements, selecting courses, and preparing for the move. If you didn’t get the decision you wanted, applying early will give you the chance to apply to additional schools during regular decision. 

Another benefit is that applying early may increase your chances of getting accepted. While applying early indicates a strong interest in a school, it doesn’t guarantee that you will improve your impression of the admission committee. 

Applying early to college can have advantages, but it's important to remember that it can also be more competitive. Many students with strong profiles often apply for early action or early decision. 

That said, early application is also likely to have a smaller applicant pool. In essence, any potential increase in acceptance chances can exist but is not guaranteed. 

FAQs: Early Action and Early Decision

Still have questions, like what are the differences between early action and regular decision? Well, it’s not too late to get the answers! Below, we have gathered some of the more common questions students ask about early action and early decision. 

1. Is Early Decision or Early Action Better?

Which is better depends on your specific circumstances and preferences. 

Some prefer early action because it allows you to weigh all your options and decide for yourself. Some applicants, however, are strongly attracted to one specific school and don’t need or want the additional choices. In this case, early decision would be the better option. 

2. Is There Any Downside to Early Action?

An important thing to consider when applying early is that it may affect your financial aid process. With early action, you have less time to compare financial aid packages from other schools or to gather and submit all the necessary documents for a financial aid application. 

3. Does Early Action Boost Your Chances?

Possibly, but it’s not guaranteed. 

Early action generally has fewer applicants than regular applications, meaning there is less competition. However, students who apply early tend to have more polished and well-prepared profiles, which makes the competition among early applicants quite fierce. 

Early action does, however, indicate strong interest, which admissions committees may view positively. 

4. Is There Any Advantage to Early Action?

Yes, applying early allows you to submit your application and receive an admission decision earlier than regular applicants. This can give you more time to plan and prepare for the future, including applying to other schools.

5. Can I Apply Early Decision and Early Action at the Same Time?

Yes, you can apply simultaneously to early action and decision. However, you must remember that if you apply for early decision and get admitted, you must withdraw and forfeit all other applications and offers. 

Any details about what you can do when applying early are usually available on the school’s official website. Research is your best friend!

Final Thoughts

So, which option should you choose? Long story short, if you want to have freedom of choice, you should choose early action. However, if you have a strong preference or inclination to attend a particular school and want to show your commitment, you should choose early decision. Early decisions are best recommended for your dream schools. 

Looking at early action vs. early decision, if you want to have multiple options and the flexibility to decide which school you attend, go for early action. Restrictive early action means you can only apply early for one school, so choose wisely.

If your grades are competitive at the beginning of the school year that you plan to submit your application, then applying early is an excellent option. 

One important thing to note is that you must keep your grades high throughout that entire year. Your offer could be revoked if your grades drop too much at the end of the school year, so be sure to continue focusing on your academics even after acceptance.

At the end of the day, if your applicant profile is prepared and ready to submit during early action or early decision, and you feel confident, go for it! However, timing is much less important than the quality of your application. Never submit anything in haste, whether you apply early or during the regular decision period.

Good luck with your applications!

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