What’s the difference between early action and early decision? What about single-choice early action? How do I choose? The way you apply to college can have a big impact, so it’s important to understand the various application deadlines, what constraints each application type imposes on the applicant, and how to choose between them.
- Early Action: Early action applications allow students to apply early to a given college or university and receive an early response. Unlike early decision (below), this application type is not binding. Students do not need to accept or decline a college’s offer before the usual response deadline of May 1st. Early action deadlines can vary, but usually fall between November 1st and December 1st. However, be sure to check with the school! Some universities, such as the University of North Carolina, have deadlines in October. Notification dates also vary, but frequently are in December or early January.
- Early Decision I: Like early action, early decision applications allow a student to apply early to a given college or university and receive an early response. However, a student may only apply to one school under an early decision 1 plan. These applications are binding, meaning that the student commits to attending that school if accepted. Early decision deadlines and notification dates are similar to early action.
- Early Decision II: Similar to early decision 1, this application type is also binding, so the student commits to attending that school if they are accepted. However, the deadline is significantly later, often around the schools’ regular decision deadline in late December or early January. This allows students more time to make a decision before committing to a school. It can also allow students rejected from a first choice ED 1 school to still apply early decision to their second choice school.
- Single Choice Early Action: This relatively rare application type combines elements of early decision and early action. Like early decision, students may only apply to one college or university early if they are using this application type. However, these decisions are not binding. Students must accept or decline offers by May 1st.
- Regular Decision: Students apply by late December or early January to receive decisions by March or April. These decisions are not binding, and students must accept or decline offers by May 1st. Regular decision is the most common application type.
- Rolling Decision: Rolling admission schools evaluate applications as they receive them rather than waiting for a set deadline. This application process is common for large state universities, but some rolling admission schools—such as Penn State University—still maintain priority deadlines for earlier response times or main campus admission. Many rolling admissions schools begin accepting applications by August 1st.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens if I apply early and don’t get accepted?
Depending on the school, Early Decision or Early Action applicants may either be deferred or rejected. A deferral means that the student’s application will be reconsidered as part of the Regular Decision process. Depending on the school, students may be asked to submit mid-year grades, academic and extracurricular updates, or an indication of continued interest.
Will applying to a school under its early decision program help my chances? When should I apply to a school early decision?
In a word, yes. Colleges and universities are concerned about their yield, or the number of accepted students who ultimately choose to enroll at their institution. Applying to a school early decision clearly indicates that a school is your first choice and constitutes a binding decision to attend if accepted. Statistically speaking, this will increase your chance of admission.
However, our philosophy is that students should choose their early decision school with their heart, rather than their head. We would rather have a student apply early decision to a dream, reach school (and possibly get rejected or deferred) than apply early decision to a “safer” option and possibly regret their choice.
Will applying early action help my chances? When should I apply early action?
Although early action does not send as strong of a signal of interest to a college as early decision, it can still help your chances. Acceptance rates tend to be higher among early action candidates. Additionally, even if a student is not accepted early, they could be reconsidered as a regular decision student, essentially giving the student two chances at admission.
As long as a student feels confident that they will be able to complete an application (and essays) to the best of their ability by an early action deadline, they should try and apply under that plan.
When should I apply to rolling decision schools?
As soon as possible. The earlier a student applies, the earlier they are likely to hear back, and having an acceptance in your pocket can offer peace of mind throughout the rest of the application process. Additionally, rolling decision schools still have both a finite number of places to offer students and a finite amount of financial aid. Applying early can increase your access to both.
If I applied early decision and was accepted, can I change my mind?
With very few exceptions, no. Students can be released from an early decision agreement under certain circumstances, such as a family emergency, drastic change in life circumstances, or an insufficient financial aid package. However, such exceptions are rare. You should only apply Early Decision to a school if you are committed to attending if accepted.
Still weighing your options about how to apply? We’re here to help!