One of the biggest dilemmas college applicants face is not just WHAT colleges to apply to, but WHEN! Applying to college early can be a huge benefit as you will also be notified of your admissions decision early, so you could potentially adapt your college list during the regular round accordingly and save yourself time and energy. But differentiating between the different types can be very confusing, so we made a quick guide to break down the different options and our advice when it comes to the early round.
Remember, not all schools offer an early admissions round, but instead have an early application deadline with a regular admissions decision. This includes a lot of state schools that have to go through many applications, such as the UC/CSU system and the University of Washington. Some private schools like USC will also only offer regular admissions decision options, so make sure to check each school on your list individually to see what they have.
Early Action generally has deadlines during the month of November and notifies applicants of their decision by December/January. Since this application plan is non-binding, applicants do not have to fully commit to the school financially in order to apply. We definitely recommend applying to at least one or two (or more!) schools with this plan so that you can get at least a few of your decisions back before March. It’s also good to include a few safety schools in the early action round so that you will most likely have a college in the fall that you can attend. Trust us!!! It can be extremely nerve-wracking to not know if you’ll be going to ANY college in the fall if your peers are getting accepted into highly selective universities during the early round and you won’t be hearing back until months later.
Early Decision has similar application deadlines in November and notifies applicants of their decision by December. However, unlike EA, ED is binding, so applicants are required to financially commit to the school should they be accepted. Many private universities (with the exception of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and MIT) will offer this application plan. Since this is a great way for colleges to increase their yield (the percentage of students who are accepted that enroll) and thus their overall ranking, their acceptance rates will generally be higher during this round. While the increased accepted rate might be very appealing, please keep in mind that recruited athletes and legacies tend to apply early as well, which also tends to skew the acceptance rate and might not necessarily increase the chances of an applicant without a “hook” as much.
Keeping all of this in mind, we only recommend that you apply through ED if the school is your absolute #1 choice, you can afford it financially, and you have visited campus. Since COVID-19 makes the visiting component especially difficult, you should be wary of fully committing financially to the institution that you will be spending the next four years early on in the application process, especially if you have a few applications during the regular decision notification round that are high on your list.
Early Decision II
Similarly to Early Decision I, EDII is binding, so applicants are required to financially commit to the school should they be accepted. However, the application deadlines tend to be the same as their regular ones (beginning of January) with notifications of the applicant’s decision coming out during late January or February. This option is a lot less common than Early Decision, but many private universities still offer it (The University of Chicago, WashU, and Pomona College just to name a few). Our advice for Early Decision I still applies for this option as it is still a major commitment, but your admissions chances might be better since not as many recruited athletes and legacies opt into this method.
Restrictive Early Action (also called Single-Choice Early Action)
Just like Early Action, REA is non-binding, so applicants do not have to fully commit to the school financially in order to apply. However, it is considered to be “restrictive” because many schools that offer REA will not let you apply to other schools EA (unless it is a public school, but this policy varies so check each university’s policy individually!!!). Additionally, this application plan is pretty uncommon, and is pretty much only offered by Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford. It will probably not increase your chances of admission as much as the binding ED/EDII process, but is a good way to get notified early from one of your reach/dream schools!
It is definitely a good idea to start applying early as it will relieve stress about your college plans and might save time and money if you decide to change your RD list based on your early decisions.
If you are deciding to do a binding application plan (ED/EDII), make sure that you can afford to pay in full and it is your #1 choice!!
Applying to at least a few safeties through Early Action is always a good idea, and can save you from applying to too many safeties through the RD process.