There are many different ways of applying to college. Each with different benefits and disadvantages. In exchange for improved chances, you may sacrifice the ability to compare. This can be very tough when trying to budget for college for some. For some though, it gives a much better chance to get into highly competitive schools.
What Are the Early Round Options?
Early Decision (ED)
ED is a binding process. If you apply ED to a school, you are making a commitment to enroll if admitted. You are to withdraw all applications to other schools if admitted. There is only one exception to this. You can opt out if you need financial support and the aid awarded by the school is not enough to make the cost affordable. However, this is not very common.
If you have identified one school that you are thrilled to call home for the next four years, ED could be a great option for you. You are signaling to the school that they are your dedicated top-choice.
Some highly competitive schools, such as Denison College, Middlebury College, and University of Chicago, also offer Early Decision II. This occurs around the same time as the Regular Decision. This option can be good for those who did not get into their first-choice college but have a clear second favorite. ED II can also be helpful for those who are ready to commit but need more time initially.
Early Action (EA)
EA is similar to ED except that it is non-binding. With EA, you are not obligated to enroll under any circumstances. Even if you have applied ED elsewhere, you can still apply EA without restrictions. You also have the option to apply to other institutions through the regular admission process even after getting into your EA schools.
EA is an excellent option for students who have identified one or a few schools that they like. If you are ready to apply, but do not want to be obligated to attend if accepted, this might be a good option. Since the EA program is not binding, students can also use this as an opportunity to either secure admission to a few schools or “test the water” to see what kind of schools would accept them before proceeding to the RD round.
Single-Choice Early Action (SCEA) or Restrictive Early Action (REA)
This is a trickier option and is a hybrid between ED and EA. While it is non-binding, you cannot apply EA or ED to any other schools until you have received your decision from the school to which you applied SCEA or REA. This means that you can only apply to one school in the first early round, though you will still be able to apply ED II or EA II after your SCEA/ REA result comes out.
This is a good option for students who have one top-choice school that they like but do not want to be obligated to attend. However, make sure you do not want to apply early elsewhere, since you cannot legally apply to another school before hearing back from your SCEA/ REA school.
Due to this restrictive nature, the SCEA/ REA program is only available at a few select institutions: Boston College, Georgetown University, Harvard University, Princeton University, Stanford University, the University of Notre Dame, and Yale University.
What Are the Possible Outcomes of Applying Early?
If you apply early, then there are three possible outcomes:
1. You may be admitted. An ED acceptance letter in mid to late December would allow you to conclude your college application process. You will need to withdraw any other college applications. This does not apply to EA and SCEA/REA offers.
2. Your application may be deferred. This means that your application will automatically roll into the school’s Regular Decision pool. Schools take this action when they find your application strong but wish to consider it in the context of their full application pool. ED applicants who are deferred to RD round are no longer bound to the ED commitment if admitted.
3. Your application may be denied. While this outcome can be disappointing, you can continue with your college application process and find a better fit for you.
What Are the Benefits of Applying Early?
1. You will know your admission decision sooner. This can save you from stress later on and give you more time to prepare for college.
2. You are demonstrating your strong interest to the school. Schools prefer to offer admission to people who will enroll. It is factored into college rankings and also helps with administration.
3. Sometimes, applying early means you have a better chance of being accepted. For example, Brown accepted 885 students to their Class of 2025, which made up 15.9% of ED applicants (5540). This is over 4 times the RD acceptance rate (3.5%) and nearly 3 times the overall acceptance rate (5.4%). However, it is important to remember that this is not always the case. Colleges and universities have different policies regarding their ED and EA applicants.
What Are the Drawbacks of Applying Early?
1. You have less time to prepare. Applying early means that you need to have all of your materials ready earlier, including your essays, standardized test scores, extra-curricular activities, portfolio and anything else which might be applicable. It also means that your fall semester grade will not be taken into consideration. Your November SAT/ ACT scores will also not be available by the deadline.
2. There is more pressure to decide. Committing to one college means that you need to do extensive research and make serious decisions before applying. Once admitted, you also have the obligation to enroll and therefore will not be able to explore other schools.
3. You have limited options with financial aid and scholarships. If you are a student who wants to compare financial aid packages, applying to an ED school might not be beneficial.
Choosing where to go to college is a major decision that requires extensive research and personal reflection. While the early programs are designed to give students better odds of getting into their dream schools, each applicant’s case is different. It is really up to you whether applying early is a best fit for you. Generally, the early options are beneficial if you have researched college extensively and found a school that is a strong match for you academically, socially, and financially. You will also have to prepare all materials ahead of early deadlines. However, you should not rush through the process and feel pressured to apply early if you are not ready. Take your time to think through your application strategy, weigh your options, and make sure you feel completely confident before hitting “submit.” Good luck!
Below is an overview of timelines.
1. Due date: usually between November 1 and 15 or between January 1 and 15 for Early Round II
2. Notification date: usually mid to late December or mid to late March for Early Round II
1. Due date: usually between January 1 and 15
2. Notification date: usually by April 1
1. Due date: usually anytime between September 1 and May 1.
2. Notification date: usually within 4 to 6 weeks of receiving the completed application and all supporting materials.