early action vs early decision

What Is the Difference Between Early Action Vs Early Decision?

If you are a student or parent of a student who wants to understand the college admission process, this article is for you and you also know about early action vs early decision 

You may have heard of these two terms – early decision and early action. These two terms may sound similar, but there is a difference between early action vs early decision

So, let us directly head towards our topic for the day: early action vs early decision

What Is Early Action?

As the name itself suggests, in early action, your college applications become due before the regular application deadline. The deadline for regular applications is usually between 01 December and 15 January. But for early action, the deadline would be somewhere around 01 November. However, few colleges and majors may expect you to complete your admissions by mid-October.

One good thing about early action is that there is no limit on the number of colleges you can apply to

But why would you submit your admission files a month before the regular applicants?

So, as per the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), students can receive colleges’ decisions before the regular result date. This means that you will know well in advance whether you have grabbed a seat in your dream college. It also means that you can relax, chill, and enjoy your remaining senior year!

Another benefit of early action is that you need not commit until 01 May, the national response date. That is amazing because now you have almost half a year to decide and compare different financial aid packages. 

However, certain colleges may use restrictive early action. It is also called single-choice early action and is just like an early decision. The restrictive early action allows you to use the early action process only once. Hence, you need to be careful with your college research. Moreover, you need to analyze your options diligently before using early action. 

What Is Early Decision?

early action vs early decision

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Contrary to early action, an early decision will be binding on you. You will be allowed to apply to only one college. Further, if the college accepts your application, you will have to 100% attend that college. Hence, colleges need your commitment and thus, they take signatures from you, your family, and a school counselor.

Early decision is beneficial for students who are sure about their first-choice college. Additionally, if they are confident that their application will be approved, the early decision becomes more favorable. In an early decision as well, you will get to know about the admissions decision early, mostly in December.

But one limitation with the early decision is that you will not know about other schools until a later date. Let us say in the regular admission process you get admission to a better college. But if you have opted for an early decision, you will not have the liberty to switch. 

Therefore, you must be 100% sure about your early decision college. If you are uncertain about the college or the majors, then an early decision may not be the right option for you.

Another disadvantage of early decision is its potential financial consequences. If you use early decision, you are upright telling the college that you will take admission to come what may. Now the college knows that they do not need to give you any incentives to attend their college. Hence, the college may become reluctant to offer you a scholarship or financial aid. So, if you are relying upon some financial help to do your majors, an early decision may not be the correct option for you.

Now that we know about early action vs early decision, let us dive deeper.

What Are the Advantages of Applying Early?

Applying early reduces the stress that comes with regular admissions. Early action and early decision tell the colleges that you have done your background research and are interested in these colleges.

Does Applying Early Increase the Chance of Your Acceptance?

Few colleges take a significant amount of their incoming class from the early decision pool. These colleges consider the early decision as a tool to segregate students. The colleges segregate interested students from students who are 100% willing to take admission in that college. 

Further, a lot of students believe that applying early means competing with lesser applicants. The students may consider this as their increased chance of acceptance. However, this may not be always true. Colleges differ in the percentage of early applicants they admit to their various courses. Hence, “All elite college take a higher percentage of incoming class from early decision applicants” is not a universal statement.

Apparently, students having strong academic profiles apply for early decisions as they are confident about their competence. Hence, ensure that you ask the admission office of colleges whether their admission standards are different for early decision and regular candidates. Based on their response, assess whether applying early will be suitable for your profile.

Should You Apply Early?

early action vs early decision

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With all the benefits, applying early may seem an attractive option to you. But only if you are sure about your dream college(s) and feel that you are competitive, you should apply early.

So, now how would you know if you are competitive? 

Check the college’s website. Most colleges give you an idea about their applicant profile. So, assess your competitive strength using the applicant profile on the website. 

Moreover, in addition to colleges’ academic offerings, campus, culture, and location, research about the different available financial aid packages.

What Do Changes in NACAC Rules Mean for Early Action Vs Early Decision?

In 2020, NACAC introduced several changes to its Code of Ethics and Professional Practices owing to an antitrust investigation by the Department of Justice. The investigation allegedly claimed that few of the code’s provisions inhibited competition and resulted in collusion by colleges, which the NACAC disputed.

The new changes in the code:

    • removed barriers that disallowed member colleges from providing incentives to students applying to early action or early decision
  • allowed colleges to pursue students who had already taken admission elsewhere
  • is allowed colleges to offer enrollment incentives to students who had already taken admission elsewhere
  • allowed colleges to invite previously admitted students who have now enrolled in some other institution

These changes have been implemented. Thus, few colleges have already started offering incentives to students who apply early.

Also Read: The Quickest Way to Pay off Your Student Loan

Few Points to Remember:

Applying to an early decision or early action is most appropriate for a student who:

  • has researched well about colleges
  • is certain about his/her first-choice college 
  • has found a college that is a fit for his/her profile academically, socially, and geographically
  • meets or exceeds the college admission criterion for SAT scores, GPA, and class rank
  • has a consistent academic record

Applying to an early decision or early action is not appropriate for a student who:

  • has not researched well about colleges
  • is applying early only to avoid stress and paperwork later
  • requires a strong senior fall semester to improve his/her grades
  • is not certain about attending the college
  • is applying early only because of peer pressure

A quick snapshot of early action vs early decision:

  • Both early action and early decision have application deadlines before regular admissions
  • In both cases, you will receive college admissions’ decisions well in advance, usually in
    mid-December
  • In early action (unless it is restrictive), you can apply to as many colleges as you wish
  • Early decision is for just one college and is binding. That means you must attend that college when you are admitted

We hope this article on early action vs early decision helped you in some way and you enjoyed reading it. 

We would like to leave you with few parting thoughts: 

Talk to your counselor, parents, and family members. Find out if you should opt for an early decision. If you think you should opt, make sure that you are financially and mentally prepared to take admission to that college.

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