Early Action vs. Early Decision

Navigating Early Action vs. Early Decision: Making an Informed College Application Strategy


Early Action vs. Early Decision

As high school seniors prepare for the stressful college application process, students need to consider the timeline of whether to apply through Early Action (EA), Early Decision (ED), or even Restrictive Early Action (REA).

Each option offers advantages and considerations, and understanding the differences is essential for crafting a successful application strategy.

Early Action vs. Early Decision: Understanding the Basics

Before examining the details of each application option, it’s important to understand the fundamental distinctions between Early Action and Early Decision.

Early Action (EA):

Early Action is a non-binding application that allows students to apply to colleges early, typically by November 1, and receive an admission decision sometime in early January. Accepted students under Early Action applications have until the May 1 deadline to finalize their college choice. This allows students to visit colleges and review their choices and options in advance. While early action applications will require some organization early in the summer and fall, students often get excited by receiving positive decisions after their mid-term exams in January.

Early Decision (ED):

Early Decision is a binding application process in which students commit to attending a particular college if accepted. ED applications are typically due by November 1, and admitted students are required to withdraw all other pending applications and enroll at the institution. Students will usually hear back from colleges before December 30. It’s a significant commitment and should only be pursued by students who are certain about their top-choice school.

Restrictive Early Action (REA):

Restrictive Early Action is similar to Early Action but comes with some restrictions. Students can apply to other public colleges but cannot apply to other schools via the early action route. REA allows students to receive early admission decisions without the binding commitment associated with Early Decision.

Also Read: What to do after being wait-listed?

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Early Action and
Early Decision

  1. Commitment Level: The most significant factor distinguishing EA from ED is the level of commitment. Early Decision is a binding agreement, whereas Early Action offers more flexibility. Students should carefully consider their level of certainty about their top-choice school and their willingness to commit before opting for ED.
  2. Financial Considerations: ED can impact a student’s ability to compare financial aid offers from different institutions. If financial aid is a crucial factor, EA might be a more suitable option, as it allows students to weigh multiple aid packages before making a final decision.
  3. Academic Preparedness: Applying early requires having completed necessary standardized tests, essays, and other application components ahead of schedule. Students should ensure they’re academically prepared and have thoroughly researched their chosen colleges before submitting early applications.
  4. Application Strategy: Some students may opt for a mixed strategy, applying to some schools under Early Decision or Restrictive Early Action while keeping their options open with other institutions through Early Action or regular decision.

Colleges Offering Early Action, Early Decision, and Restrictive
Early Action

Numerous colleges and universities across the United States offer Early Action, Early Decision, and Restrictive Early Action options. Other colleges offer priority deadlines which might be necessary for scholarship consideration. You should check directly with each college before you apply.

How to Make an Informed Decision

Research Each Institution: Understand the policies and requirements of each college offering Early Action, Early Decision, or Restrictive Early Action. Consider factors such as academic programs, campus culture, location, and financial aid offerings.

  1. Research Each Institution: Understand the policies and requirements of each college offering Early Action, Early Decision, or Restrictive Early Action. Consider factors such as academic programs, campus culture, location, and financial aid offerings.
  2. Evaluate Your Priorities: Reflect on your academic and personal goals, as well as your preferences regarding campus environment, size, and extracurricular opportunities. Consider how each college aligns with your aspirations and values.
  3. Consult with Your College Counselor: Seek guidance from high school counselors, independent educational consultants, and mentors who can provide valuable insights and advice based on their experience and expertise.
  4. Consider the Financial Implications: Be mindful of the financial commitments associated with Early Decision and how they might impact your ability to compare financial aid packages. Evaluate the affordability of each college and consider the long-term financial implications of your decision.
  5. Stay Organized and Plan Ahead: Create a timeline for completing application materials, taking standardized tests, and meeting deadlines for Early Action and Early Decision applications. Stay organized and manage your time effectively to ensure a smooth application process.

Considering Early Action

  • Your grades are stellar
  • The student has the necessary grades to receive a merit scholarship
  • The student has checked with the college and they require students to apply EA in order to be evaluated for scholarships
  • The student is planning to write their essays over the summer and has plenty of time to write a thoughtful essay

Regular Decision

  • Your grades are on an upward trend;
  • You are taking classes in your senior year that are significantly more rigorous than in grades 10 and 11;
  • You are taking (or retaking) standardized exams;
  • The student is planning to retake a class they had previously failed
  • You are working on a significant project or activity in the fall of your final year in high school.

Considering Restrictive Early Action

Restrictive Early Action may be a good option for you if all of the following apply:

  • You have identified your first choice;
  • You have taken a challenging academic schedule through grade 11 and have done well. When we review your early application, it is important to have a strong transcript through grade 11 because we will not have your grades from the first semester of your senior year;
  • You have enough time before the November 1 deadline to write a thoughtful application.

Restrictive Early Action Policy

Directly from Stanford University – Other colleges have similar policies

  • If you apply to Stanford with a decision plan of Restrictive Early Action, you may not apply to any other private college/university under their Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, Early Decision, or Early Notification plan.
  • You may not apply to any public university under an early binding plan, such as Early Decision.
  • If you apply to Stanford under Restrictive Early Action, you may apply to other colleges and universities under their Regular Decision plan.
  • If you apply to Stanford under Restrictive Early Action and you are either not offered admission or your application is deferred, you may apply to another college’s Early Decision II plan.

Exceptions to the Restrictive Early Action Policy

  • Public Universities with a non-binding early application plan or early application deadline.
  • Colleges with a non-binding rolling admission process.
  • Foreign Colleges with a non-binding application plan on any schedule.
  • Military Academies
  • Colleges with an early deadline for a scholarship or special academic program, as long as:
  1. The decision is non-binding; and
  2. Applying early is required in order to be considered for the scholarship or program.

Summary

In conclusion, the choice between Early Action, Early Decision, and Restrictive Early Action is a significant decision that requires careful consideration and planning. By understanding the differences between these application options and evaluating your priorities, academic readiness, and financial considerations, you can make an informed decision that sets you on the path toward your desired college experience.

Remember to seek guidance when needed, and approach the application process with confidence and determination.