Early Action vs. Early Decision vs. Regular Decision

Comments Off on Early Action vs. Early Decision vs. Regular Decision 31 August 2017

The main differences between early action, early decision and regular decision college applications include the timing of application deadlines, the timing of admissions notifications and whether acceptances are binding upon the applicant.

About a quarter of colleges offer early action and/or early decision.

Early action (EA) and early decision (ED) are types of early admission, in contrast with regular decision (RD). Early decision is binding, where the applicant has agreed to enroll if admitted. Early action is not binding. You can apply early decision to only one college. Both early action and early decision involve earlier deadlines for college applications, typically in November. Both also provide earlier notification of admissions decisions, typically in December. Admissions decisions can include deferring the application to the regular admissions pool, not just the usual admit, deny or waitlist decisions.

Single choice early action (SCEA) is like early action, but the student can apply early to only one college. If you apply early action to a single choice early action college, you cannot apply early action or early decision to any other college.

The differences between early action, early decision and regular decision are summarized by this table.

Admissions Timeline Deadline Notification Binding Number of


Decision Day
Early Action November December No No Limit May 1
Single Choice Early Action November December No 1 May 1
Early Decision November December Yes 1 Automatic
Regular Decision January, February March, April No No Limit May 1

There are several benefits to applying early action and early decision:

  • Higher acceptance rates. Acceptance rates tend to be higher for the early action and early decision application pools. This might be partly due to self-selection, since early applicants tend to have strong academic profiles. Also, applying early is a form of demonstrated interest. Colleges like early action and early decision because it lets them fill their classes sooner.
  • Stress reduction. Although applying by an earlier deadline can be stressful, getting accepted early can reduce stress because you’ll know you’ve been accepted by at least one college.
  • More time. Students who get in early have more time to consider their options and might make better decisions about where to enroll.

There are several drawbacks to applying early action and early decision:

  • Binding commitment to enroll. Applying early decision may be problematic for low-income students, since you can’t compare college financial aid packages to find the college with the lowest net price. Students who apply early decision agree to withdraw applications from other colleges if they are accepted early. If the financial aid award is inadequate, some colleges will allow applicants to back out of the early decision acceptance.
  • Less financial aid. The average financial aid package is lower for students accepted through early action and early decision. This may be because students who apply earlier tend to be wealthier. Generally, colleges do not award less financial aid to early decision applicants because of the binding commitment. In fact, there’s more financial aid available to early applicants, because the college has not yet exhausted its financial aid budget.
  • Senioritis. Getting accepted early may contribute to senioritis, where your academic performance declines. However, colleges can and do revoke offers of admission if your grades drop.

Early decision should be avoided because it limits your options.

Early action and early decision are best for students who have a strong academic performance, generally with test scores at or above the 75th percentile for students enrolled at the college.

It might be better to apply early action to a match school, as opposed to a reach school. You are more likely to get in early at a match school. You can then save on application fees becasue you don’t need to apply to as many safety schools.

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