Should I Apply Early Decision or Early Action?

If you are preparing to apply to college and hope to be admitted into an exclusive school, you may wonder whether or not you should apply via the early action or early decision programs at your top-choice schools. These application programs offer students the chance to learn much sooner whether or not they have been accepted, but they are not the right answer for everyone. Before you decide whether to apply early decision or early action to the colleges that you are considering, you should understand the differences between these two application processes.

The Difference Between Single-Choice Early Action and Early Decision

Early programs are offered by many selective schools, including the eight colleges that make up the Ivy League. Out of those colleges, five have early decision programs, including the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Brown, Columbia and Cornell. Harvard, Yale and Princeton, have single-choice early action programs, which differ from early decision programs in important ways.

When you apply early decision to a school, you are bound to attend there if you are accepted, and must notify the school in December of your senior year of high school. This means that you will not have the ability to weigh different financial aid packages that are offered to you by any other schools. Single-choice early action programs such as those at Harvard, Yale and Princeton differ because students who are accepted through them are not bound to attend and do not need to decide whether or not to accept until the May 1 deadline. Students who do apply via a single-choice early action program (sometimes called restrictive early action) will not be able to apply early to any other school, but they may apply to other colleges and universities during the regular admission period.

Who Should Consider Applying Early Decision?

Only students who are certain that they want to attend the schools at which they are applying via early decision programs should apply by early decision. Columbia University advises that choosing to apply by early decision to Columbia should only be done after careful consideration. If you apply early decision and are accepted, you will have to withdraw your other applications and attend the school. Students who have grade-point averages that are higher than the target school’s average GPA and SAT or ACT scores that are also higher and who know that they want to attend the school to which they are applying should consider applying early decision.

Who Should Consider Applying Early Action?

Students who have strong GPAs and high SAT or ACT scores may also consider applying via early action programs. If your first-choice school is one of the schools with a single-choice early action program but without an early decision program, it makes sense for you to apply to the school via its single-choice early action program. When you do so, you will receive a decision from the college much earlier than its regular decision announcements. You will not have to decide whether or not you will attend the school until May 1, however.

Some schools have early action programs that do not restrict students from applying to other schools via their own early action programs simultaneously. This may be a good option if you are applying to a highly selective school and have not applied by early decision or single-choice early action to another college or university.

What are the Advantages of Applying Early Decision or Early Action?

There are multiple benefits of applying via early decision or early action for students. Most notably, if you apply early, you have a greater chance of gaining admission into your top-choice school. For example, Harvard reports that it accepted 14.5 percent of the students who applied via its single-choice early action program while its overall acceptance rate was only 5.2 percent for the class of 2021. Dartmouth accepted 27.8 percent of the students who submitted applications via its early decision program but only had an overall acceptance rate of 10.4 percent. These results demonstrate that students who apply early to their first-choice colleges are much likelier to get accepted to them, but there are some caveats.

Who Should Not Apply Early Decision or Early Action?

There are some students who should not apply via early decision or early action programs, and other students who should consider applying early action but not early decision. If you need to retake your SAT or ACT during the fall of your senior year in order to improve your scores, or if you need to have a strong fall semester in order to bring up your GPA, you should wait to apply for your top-choice schools until their regular decision application periods. Students who are not absolutely sure that they want to attend a college with the restrictions of an early decision program should also avoid applying via early decision to the school. Since you will be bound to attend a school at which you are accepted via early decision, it’s important that you know that you truly want to go to college there.

Students who will need to rely on financial aid may want to avoid applying via early decision programs because of their inability to review and negotiate financial aid packages that may be offered by different schools. While schools often will agree to release students from their early decision agreements if they are truly financially unable to attend, it may be too late for them to apply anywhere else by the time the financial aid packages are released. Single-choice early action programs do not carry a similar concern since they do not restrict you from applying to other schools during the regular application periods, allowing you the ability to review offers of financial aid from several schools if you are lucky enough to be accepted by multiple colleges.

Choosing whether or not to apply early decision or early application is an important decision and should not be taken lightly. Before you decide to do so, you should make certain that you exceed the school’s requirements and that you will be able to attend there if you are accepted. Applying by early decision offers distinct advantages for gaining acceptance. Early action programs also offer an advantage over the regular application period. You may want to seek out advice on whether or not these options are right for you before you make your decision.

Going Ivy is a full-service college admissions counseling, academic tutoring and test prep company that can help students decide whether they should apply early action or early decision to college.

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