Early Action vs. Early Decision: What You Need to Know

Frustrated student in an orange shirt looking at her laptop deciding between early action vs. early decision
January 20, 2023
Early Action vs. Early Decision: What is the Difference?Early Action vs. Early Decision: Pros and ConsEarly Action vs. Early Decision: Which One Should You Choose?The Benefits of Applying EarlyFAQs: Early Action vs. Early Decision

”Rohan

Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 01/20/23

What’s the difference between early action and early decision? Read on to learn about your options! We'll cover the pros and cons for each, tips on which to choose, and more!

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 taken steps to simplify the process and make it more manageable for students. By giving students the opinion to submit their applications at an earlier date, schools allow you to cut down on admission stress.

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

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Early Action vs. Early Decision: What Is the Difference?

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

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.

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. 

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

Early decision, on the other hand, 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 Action vs. Early Decision: Pros and Cons

Now that we’ve defined early action vs. early decision, let’s look at their advantages and disadvantages.

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. You get to weigh your options and circumstances and then decide which school is best for you after you’ve received all your offers. 

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

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. 

Similar to early action, you will have less time to gather application requirements. 

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!

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

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 particular school, and want to show your commitment, you should choose early decision. Early decisions are best recommended for your dream schools. 

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, though, so choose wisely.

The Benefits of Applying Early

Applying earlier gives you a headstart on your other applications. Early action and early decision usually open in November. Applying to other colleges during the regular admission window becomes that much easier; you’ve already secured key components like your test scores and letters of recommendation.

When you apply early, 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 an 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 its advantages, but it's important to keep in mind that it can also be more competitive. Many students with strong profiles often apply for early action or early decision. With 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 vs. Early Decision

That is all you need to know about early action vs. early decision. Still got questions to ask? Well, now is not too late to find answers!

1. Is Early Decision or Early Action Better?

In the most general sense, early action is better than early decision; it gives you the freedom to weigh all your options and make the final decision for yourself. 

However, some applicants are strongly attracted to one specific school, and they don’t need or want the additional choices if they get the offer from that school. In cases like this, early decision is better option, as it communicates your commitment and enthusiasm attend sed college.

Really, whether early action or early decision is better depends on your specific circumstances and preferences.  

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 a shorter time frame to gather and submit all the necessary documents for your application. 

This can make it more difficult for you to gather the materials in time and apply for financial aid, which could potentially impact your ability to afford attending the school if you are accepted.

If you get accepted through early action, you may have less time or opportunities to compare financial aid packages from other schools. In fact, you may feel pressured to commit before you even get the chance to know all your options. 

3. Does Early Action Boost Your Chances?

Possibly, but it is not guaranteed. Early action indicates strong demonstrated interest, which may be viewed positively by admissions committees. 

When compared to regular application, early action generally has a smaller pool of applicants, which means there is less competition. However, students who apply early tend to have more polished and well-prepared profiles, making the competition among early applicants still quite fierce.

It's difficult to say how much of an impact early action can have on your chances of getting accepted. While it may provide a slight boost, applicants should not rely on it as the sole factor in their application. Instead, they should view early action as an added benefit and focus on perfecting their application materials and academic performance.

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.

Receiving your decision earlier can alleviate the stress of waiting, leaving you with more time to handle any necessary next steps.

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

As long as doing so won’t conflict with any restrictions or limitations, then yes, it is possible to apply to early action and early decision simultaneously. However, you must keep in mind 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 usually are available on the school’s official website. Research is your best friend!

Final Thoughts

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. If your grades drop too much at the end of the school year, your offer could be revoked.

At the end of the day, if your applicant profile is prepared and ready enough to submit during early action or early decision, and you feel confident, then go for it! However, timing is much less important than the quality of your application. Never submit anything in haste, no matter if you apply early or during regular decision.

Good luck with your applications!

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