Early Decision vs Early Action: Choosing a College Admissions Strategy

Last Updated on May 25, 2023

College Application: A high school Senior is considering choosing Early Decision vs Early Action for college admissions.

High school students gearing up for college have several options as for their college application strategies. They can go for regular admission, follow the usual deadlines and take their time with the application process. Or, they can apply for early decision or early action.

Early College Application Plans

Colleges have different admission plans for early applications, but one thing's for sure. The early college application plans allow graduating high school students to map out their plans for college as early as possible. This means they will know earlier whether they qualify or not. If they qualify, they get first dibs on residence hall slots. Admitted students can also start assembling the papers they would need to apply for financial aid earlier. The general consensus is that early applicants have a much greater chance of getting accepted than those that go through the regular application process.

Early college application comes in two forms: early action and early decision. Most colleges allow either, and some allow both. Here are the main differences between these two types of early application.

What is Early Action?

Early action means the student can apply early and find out in a few months if he qualifies for his first choice. When the acceptance comes, he has time to study his first choice carefully, check out other schools and make a more informed decision by the spring deadline. Early action applicants usually receive the college's admission decision in January or February.

With early action, a student can breathe easy the rest of his senior year because he already knows whether or not he qualifies for his first choice. He also has an idea what the financial aid package offer is, and he can compare this to that offered by other schools. He has the leisure of applying to other schools in his list via the regular admission process. Early action college applications are non-binding and there's no need to send in a decision as soon as possible.

What is Early Decision?

Early decision college application plans are much more restrictive than early action application plans. Like in the early action application, the student applies early to his first choice and then applies to other colleges via the regular application process. The difference is that, under the early decision application plan, a student must withdraw his college application from all the other schools as soon as he receives word from his first choice that he got accepted. Early decision notifications usually arrive by December.

The downside of this is that the student has no idea what kind of financial aid is offered in other schools. Usually, the schools need the commitment from the student before the financial aid package for the student is offered. Thus, the student must live with the financial aid package offered by his first choice, because he has already withdrawn his application to other schools. While the financial aid package offered by his first choice may be adequate, there may be a better package out there that he qualifies for. The student is also required to send in a non-refundable deposit before the national deadline in spring. If the student decides to change his mind at the last minute, he will not be able to get back his deposit.

Early Action vs. Early Decision

Both admission plans can benefit students, especially those who are applying early for the right reasons. It's a mistake to apply early if the student has no idea where he wants to go, or if he's just applying early because everyone else is. Only when a student has a ranked list of the schools he wants to go to can he benefit from either the early action or the early decision admission plans.

Early decision is the best choice for a student who really wants to go to a particular college. If this is the case, making the commitment, and consequently sending the deposit, is easy. Early action is best for students that are still on the fence about attending their first choice.

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