This time of year, we have numerous conversations with our students about whether or not or where to apply Early Decision or Early Action. Early Decision is binding, meaning that if you get in you are obligated to go to that school provided your financial need is met. Early Action is not binding, so in most cases there is no downside to applying non restrictive Early Action as long as you do not feel rushed.
Many students start to question their previous passion about a school that they were certain they would apply Early Decision only two months ago. This questioning is normal and typical; this is the biggest decision that you (and your family) will make thus far in your educational life and if you did not have questions, then we would be worried.
Finally, There is additional pressure to apply ED if you are certain because so many schools fill a large percentage of their class with ED candidates to manage enrollment better. That will likely mean more selectivity and larger wait lists for Regular Decision Candidates.
So how do you decide?
You should apply Early Decision if you can answer ‘yes’ to the following questions:
- Are you 100% certain that this school is a good fit for you academically, socially, and within your financial means?
- Is this school in the possible or reach category and are you using Early Decision to boost your chances?
- Does this school keep jumping to the top of the list no matter how many other schools you visit?
- Are you a recruited athlete and have committed to this school?
- If you didn’t get into this school because you did not apply early, would you regret it for the rest of your life? (Okay, that’s a bit dramatic, but you get the point.)
- Will you be able to attend this school regardless of the financial or merit based aid that you receive?
If you have answered ‘yes’ to all of these questions, then you should apply Early Decision. If however, there are any nagging uncertainties, then listen to them and wait to apply under regular decision.
With the introduction of earlier FAFSA and CSS profile filing dates using prior-prior year income, many schools will provide your financial aid package at or around the time you hear of your acceptance. You should also do a pre-read with the financial aid office before you decide to apply Early Decision to see if it is feasible financially. (Not all schools will do a pre-read). Some schools do offer their best financial aid packages to Early Decision candidates, but you need to be sure that your school is among them.
You should apply Early Action if you can answer ‘yes’ to the following questions.
- Have you had enough time to prepare your applications to your satisfaction?
- Have you taken the necessary tests, e.g. SAT, ACT, and SAT subject tests as applicable and are you satisfied with the scores?
- Are your grades through junior year representative of your best work?
- Do you want the peace of mind to have your applications in early?
If however, your grades have steadily improved and you need your senior year grades to illustrate your progress, it may be best to wait until regular decision. Many schools will defer you to regular decision if they feel like they want to see how your senior year grades hold up. And in some instances, if you are not in the top 10% of the college’s applicant pool, applying Early Action can hurt you.
Not all Early Actions are created equal, so know the policy at your schools.
RESTRICTIVE EARLY ACTION
You can apply Early Action to as many schools as you want, but cannot apply to any other school Early Decision I. (You can, however, apply to another college EDII.) Some REA schools are Boston College and Georgetown University.
SINGLE CHOICE EARLY ACTION
You can only apply Early Action to this one school and cannot apply to any other school Early Decision. You can, however, apply to public institutions and international institutions early. Some SCEA schools are Princeton, Yale, Harvard, and Stanford.
You can apply Early Action to multiple schools, if you are not applying to a SCEA school. You may also apply regular decision as well as Early Decision, but you will need to withdraw all of your outstanding applications once you have been accepted under Early Decision.