Early Action vs. Early Decision vs. Regular Decision: Which is Right for You?

Comments Off on Early Action vs. Early Decision vs. Regular Decision: Which is Right for You? 07 September 2016


Application season is officially under way, which means one of the first decisions students make after creating their college list is whether or not an early decision or early action option is right for them.   While these may sound similar, they actually have different advantages and disadvantages that should be carefully considered before applying through one of these options.

Early Decision

Early decision is the most binding option through which to apply to a college—this means students are required to attend if they are accepted.  For this reason, students only apply to one college with early decision and must withdraw any other regular-decision applications if they’re accepted to an ED school.

If you’re a student who has done their research and you are 100% certain that you want to attend a particular institution, early decision can be a way to get your materials in early and know if you are accepted long before the college’s usual notification date.   You’ll get the peace of mind of knowing your admissions decision, but for many students this is a stressful option as it limits the time you’ll have to do research into other institutions by committing to a college much earlier than you would with an early action or regular decision option.   Students who apply through early decision are also committing to attending an institution without the ability to compare financial aid packages from other colleges, which can be a disadvantage if finances are a big concern for you and your family.

If you’re choosing an early decision option, you should also make sure the school is aligned with your current academic performance and make sure you have a solid chance of getting accepted.  Logging in to your College Greenlight profile (or creating an account if you don’t have one) and completing your profile will allow you to take advantage of our “What Are My Chances?” calculator that may give you an idea how you stack up to other applicants who have been accepted in the past.

It’s also important to note that while applying ED may demonstrate a commitment to a school that can give an edge to students who are on the fence for admissions, those whose application materials make them a stretch candidate usually won’t find applying through ED will change an institution’s decision.

Early Action

Perhaps the biggest difference between early action and early decision is that early action is non-binding and students can apply early action to more than one school, as well as submit applications for regular decision deadlines.  Students applying with early action should still feel strongly about their match and fit for the particular college, and, like the ED option, have done their research ahead of time.

Early action students will have until May 1st, the national response date, to make their decision.  Through early action, students will also have the option to compare different financial aid offers, though they may not be prepared when they receive their earlier letter of acceptance.

Regular Decision

Most students will apply through the regular decision process, which means you’ll apply by a school’s application deadline, which varies from school to school.  You’ll get your decision around when everyone else does (often mid-March.)

Regular decision is good for students who might need a little more time to do their college research, or if you’ve narrowed your search but still aren’t completely sure which is the best school for you.  Like early action, you’ll also be able to compare different colleges and their financial aid options before making your decision, which for some students who are unsure of where they would like to attend, is often the most important part of their college application process.

Whether you apply early decision, early action, or opt for the regular deadline, doing the necessary research to choose whether a college is the right match and fit you is the first step.  Create a College Greenlight account and get started today!

Note: each college will have different policies, deadlines, and requirements, regardless of the admissions timeline you choose.  Make sure to check with admissions department for any school you’re considering.

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