Applying Early to College (EA vs. ED)

You have the option to apply “Early Action” or “Early Decision” at many schools. These can be used to boost your application – if used strategically.


What is Early Action?

Pros of EA:

  1. Get a decision early – less stress later!
  2. The decision is non-binding – you can still choose to go there or not, and wait to decide based on financial aid/other applications
  3. A slightly higher percentage of applicants are accepted early (although this may just be because more competitive applicants apply early – it depends on the school)
  4. Show interest to one of your top-choice schools. Schools care about the percent of people accepted who choose to go, so they like accepting students with “demonstrated interest” – EA is one way to show this!
  5. Sometimes, instead of getting rejected you are “deferred.” This means they’ll re-evaluate at the normal application time, and you can send in new test scores, mid-year grades, awards, letters of recommendation, etc. if you know you need to strengthen your app.

Cons of EA:

  1. You’ll have to have your application completely finished and ready a lot earlier
  2.  Some schools only allow you to apply EA there and nowhere else (you can still apply regular decision to other schools). This is called “restrictive” or “single choice” early action

What is Early Decision?

  • Early Decision means you apply early, get a decision early, and – if accepted – are bound to enroll at that school, regardless of other acceptances or financial aid.
  • Most deadlines are November 1st or 15th, and you typically find out whether you’re accepted mid-December. Some schools offer “Early Decision II,” which is a few months later, giving you more time to prep your application.
  • Find a list of schools that offer Early Decision here.

Pros of ED:

  1. Get a decision earlier.
  2. Show interest to your top-choice school – if you’re committing 100%, you’ve certainly demonstrated interest!
  3. A higher percentage of applicants are accepted early (this may just be because more competitive applicants apply early, or because you’ve demonstrated interest – it depends on the school)

Cons of ED:

  1. It’s binding. If you apply ED and are accepted, you MUST enroll at that school. This is even if you can’t afford to go
  2. You will not have financial aid information by the time you are accepted, if you apply ED. That means you must be 100% sure you can afford to go to that school, regardless of financial aid, before applying ED
  3. You can only apply to one school ED. Even if you got into your dream college after, if you were already accepted ED you must go to that school


  • Be crazy cautious when considering EA or ED!
    • Only apply if you know without a doubt that it is your top choice school, and one that is realistic for you.
  • You should probably avoid applying ED entirely
    • If you believe the school you want to go to will cover 100% of your cost no matter what, check with your mentor/college counselor and speak directly to an admissions or financial aid officer beforehand to confirm this is true
  • If you choose to apply early, adjust your application timeline up!
    • You’ll need to have everything ready much earlier
  • If you believe second semester grades, a new test score, or an achievement in your first semester will boost your application, you may want to wait to apply

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