Getting into College Made Easy: Understanding Early Action and Early Decision

Barry Lenson

Getting into College Made Easy: Understanding Early Action and Early Decision

Understanding Early Action and Early Decision  “Should I apply to college early decision, early action, or just file regular old applications,” is a question that guidance counselors hear from students almost daily. No mistake about it, early decision and early action are confusing.  Let’s take a closer look.

Why Apply Early via Early Decision or Early Action?

There are good and bad reasons for applying to colleges via early decision or early action.

The good reasons? If you are completely convinced that a particular college it is the right school for you, applying early gives you a statistical advantage in getting accepted. Because you have committed to attend the school if you get in, it is more likely to admit you.

The bad reasons? There are a lot of them. One is to apply early because you “just want to get your college applications out of the way.” By applying early and getting (hopefully) accepted in December, you can kick back and relax and party while all your friends are still sweating out their college applications. Another not-so-good reason is to get admitted to a school that is miles beyond your reach. Although applying early gives you a statistical advantage in getting accepted, it will not alter your chances that dramatically.

How Do Early Decision and Early Action Plans Work?

Both allow you to apply in November and get an admission decision from the college in December or early January. That’s a lot earlier than the usual April notification date.

But consider the following information before you make a decision to apply early or not:

  • Early decision applications are binding. When you apply early to a college, you are promising to enroll there if you are accepted. That’s why you can only apply to one college early decision. If you are rejected by that college, you are then free to apply anywhere you want by filing regular applications.  But things can get complicated. Often colleges place early applicants on waiting lists and inform them in April of whether or not they got in. But if you are placed on a waiting list by a college to which you applied early decision, your application becomes non-binding and you can apply anywhere and accept any offers of admissions.
  • Early action plans work pretty much like early decision plans, but are non-binding. If you apply early action, you find out in December or early January whether or not you have been accepted. Because your acceptance is non-binding, you can either make a commitment to enroll in the college then, or you can wait until you hear from other colleges before you decide. And by the way, you can apply early action to as many schools as you want.

How is Financial Aid Impacted? 

What happens to you if you apply early decision and get admitted to a college that doesn’t offer you enough financial aid to attend? Are you then required to attend a college that you can’t afford? The answer is no. Safeguards are usually built into the early admissions process and colleges let students opt out of the application if they did not receive enough financial aid.  But play it safe and be sure to understand your commitments.  If you are filing an early application and applying for financial aid too, call the admissions office at the college where you are applying and talk everything through.

But despite the safeguards, situations do arise that can cause anxiety and uncertainty for students. We know one student, for example, who got admitted to the college of her choice via non-binding early action in December. However, that school did not reveal her financial aid package at that time. While her parents were badgering the college to find out how much money their daughter would get, she had to wade in and file regular applications to other colleges, just in case her #1 pick didn’t come through with the dough. In the end, she attended a different school that offered her a good financial aid package, even though that school was not her top pick.

And What the Heck Is Rolling Admissions? 

Okay, here’s another way to apply. With rolling admissions, you can apply to college just about any time you want – even as early as the fall of your senior year. In addition, rolling admissions are usually open late, even into the summer after your senior year. And to make rolling admissions even more attractive, students are usually told promptly about whether they got admitted or not – often only a few weeks after they applied. 

Why do colleges accept rolling applications? It is often because they want to fill their incoming classes – in some cases by serving as fallback schools for students who got rejected by other schools.

Schools that accept rolling admissions are often less competitive colleges. To use Peterson’s College Search to find colleges that accept rolling applications, CLICK HERE.

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