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College Early Action vs Early Decision Explained

College Early Action vs Early Decision Explained

This blog breaks down the differences between early action and early decision in college admissions, and who benefits from each one.

Lisa Speransky
Lisa Speransky
College Admissions
College Visits
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-in-yellow-jacket-holding-books-3762800/

The college application process can be strenuous for students, and waiting for the decision can be nerve-wracking. For students eager to know their fate and make a decision, or for students very confident in their first-choice school, choosing to apply early can make a lot of sense. This blog breaks down the differences between early action and early decision in college admissions, and who benefits from each one.

Does Early Action or Decision Bind You to the College?

Early action does not bind you to the college, but early decision does.

What Is an Early Action for College?

Early action allows graduating high school students to apply to colleges of their choosing by an earlier deadline and receive an earlier decision from the school. Early action is non-binding, meaning students can apply to as many universities who offer early action as they want without committing to any of them. Students can accept or decline as soon as they receive their offer(s), but they can also wait until spring to decide, like their traditional deadline peers.

Benefits of Early Action College Application

  • Early action can remove some of the anxiety that comes with admissions decisions, simply because you will hear back earlier. Especially if you're sure of your top choice, you could know by January 1 if you're admitted and not have to worry about it for the rest of your senior year.
  • Some schools admit a higher percentage of early-action students than those who apply at the traditional deadline. This can be good for students applying to highly selective schools or those who want to see if their "reach" school is a viable option. One note of caution: if your reach school is genuinely a reach, you may be deferred under early action and still have to wait until the spring to receive a final decision from the school.
  • For students applying to private schools, or a mix of private and public schools, early action can give you an early picture of your scholarship/financial aid packages at different schools.
  • At some private universities you'll need to apply early action to be eligible for their most competitive scholarships. These scholarships often have interviews in their final rounds that take place before the traditional application deadline.
  • Students have more time to decide and/or prepare. If you're on the fence about your decision, early action can give you more time to decide and make additional college visits. Some schools even offer overnight stays to admitted students to help with their decision. If you're sure of your choice and get in, you have extra time to get to know the campus and find housing if needed.

Do You Have a Better Chance of Getting Into College with Early Action?

In some cases, yes, but not all. Applying early shows a college or university that you're highly interested in attending and highly motivated, which can work in your favor. That said, applying early action will not make up for not meeting a school's admissions criteria.

When Do Early Action Decisions Come Out?

Depending on the school, you can expect to hear back between November and February. The decision timeline is primarily based on two factors: when the deadline is, and whether or not the school employs a rolling admissions process. Early action deadlines are typically between November 1 and December 15. If schools use a rolling admissions process, you can expect to hear back more quickly, especially if you submit your application before the due date. If the school does not use a rolling admissions process, you can expect to hear back 6-8 weeks after the deadline.

Should You Apply Early Action if You Don't Meet the Requirements for the College?

Applying early action will not compensate for not meeting a school's admissions criteria. Students concerned about ACT or SAT scores would be better off retaking the test in the fall and applying at the traditional deadline with higher scores. If GPA is the concern, having a solid fall semester of your senior year and showing that on your transcripts at the traditional deadline will help you more than applying early action.

Can You Apply to the Same College After Being Rejected Early Action?

No. If a school has rejected your application under early action, you can not reapply at the traditional deadline. In most cases, you would have to wait until the following fall to reapply.

Can You Apply to More Than One College Early Action?

Yes. Most colleges allow you to apply to as many universities as you choose, either through early action or the traditional deadline. There are a few exceptions, however; many Ivy League schools offer restrictive early action, which means you can only apply to one school early action but as many schools as you wish under the traditional deadline.

Restrictive Early Action Overview

Restrictive Early Action (REA) is a non-binding early application process offered by some universities, notably selective ones like Stanford and Yale. Under REA, applicants submit their applications early—usually by November—and receive admissions decisions by mid-December. Although REA is non-binding—meaning accepted students are not required to commit to attending the university—it does restrict applicants from applying early (either Early Decision or Early Action) to other private universities. However, students may still apply to public universities, service academies, or foreign institutions under their respective early programs.

Advantages of REA

  • Earlier Notification: Students receive admissions decisions earlier than regular decision applicants.
  • Demonstrated Interest: Applying REA can signal strong interest in the university, and although at these schools, every bit helps.

Popular Colleges in NY that Offer Early Action

Currently, 35 schools offer early action in New York state. Among the most popular are Fordham University, Columbia University (School of General Studies only), and SUNY satellite campuses.

What is Early Decision for College?

Early decision is a binding application process that allows students to apply to a school early, and thus receive a decision early in exchange for agreeing to come there if accepted.

Benefits of Early Decision College Application

Early decision is excellent for students who are confident in their top-choice school. In this instance, the student benefits in several ways:

  • Peace of mind: once accepted, that's it. You don't have to worry about any additional applications or wait until the spring to hear a decision.
  • Early response: applying early decision means you hear back earlier, which allows you to apply to other schools if you're not admitted.
  • Planning time: if you know you're admitted early, you have the rest of the school year to get to know the school better and secure housing if necessary.

How Much Does Early Decision Help?

Early decision can have a significant impact on admission. Because it is a binding decision, schools look favorably on students who apply through their early decision program, and many schools have significantly higher acceptance rates for those who apply early decision.

What Is the Difference Between Early Decision 1 and 2?

The most significant differences between early decision 1 and 2 are the deadline and acceptance rate. The deadline for ED1 is typically November 1, while ED2's is typically December 15. While Early Decision 2 offers some advantages in acceptance rates, it is less advantageous than applying Early Decision 1.

How to Apply Early Decision?

Applying early decision requires having your application materials ready sooner, often by mid-October, and signing the early decision agreement with the school. Otherwise, the process is the same for applying at the traditional deadline.

When are Early Decision Applications Due?

Early Decision 1 applications are typically due November 1, and Early Decision 2 applications are due December 15.

What Colleges in NY Have Early Decisions?

Over 40 colleges throughout New York State offer early decision, including many of its most prestigious universities. The list includes Columbia, NYU, Syracuse, and Vassar.

How Many Colleges Can You Apply Early Decision to?

One. By applying early decision, a student is committing to attend if admitted.

How Binding is Early Decision?

By applying early decision, you are making a binding decision to attend that school if you are admitted. While a school cannot take legal action against you for not attending their school, the agreement is still considered binding, and backing out could see other schools rescind their acceptances.

What Is the Penalty for Backing Out of Early Decision?

Applying early decision is a binding agreement between the student and the university. Backing out can have several consequences. One is the financial cost: you will most likely lose your deposit of several hundred dollars. The more significant impact is whether or not you will retain your acceptance to other schools. College admissions is a small community, and many admissions officers know their peers from other institutions. Backing out of early decision at one school could mean you lose your offers at other schools. That being said, there are situations in which a university will allow students to change their minds after committing to early decision. The most common is financial concerns. If the student receives less than expected in financial aid and merit scholarships, and the school cannot accommodate their financial needs, they will typically allow the student to release their spot.

When Do Early Decision Results Come Out?

Students who apply Early Decision 1 will typically have their results before the Early Decision 2 deadline of December 15. Students who have a second-choice early decision school should have all their application materials ready to go at the same time as their first-choice school, so that they can submit them to the Early Decision 2 deadline if they are rejected from their top-choice school.

What Happens If You Get Rejected Early Decision?

It depends on whether you are rejected or deferred. If your application is rejected during the early decision process, you will not be able to attend that school or apply under the traditional timeline. If your application is deferred, however, it means the school will make its decision based on the applicant pool for the traditional deadline, and it is possible you will still be accepted.


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