Two types of applications exist that allow students to apply early to college: Early Action and Early Decision. Though they are similar, the applications have a few major differences that students who want to apply early should look out for. Applying early gives students the chance to get accepted before regular applications are due, offering peace of mind and more time to plan for college.
Early Action and Early Decision
To apply early, you simply fill out the Early Action or Decision college application to the school of your choice and submit it by the Early Action or Early Decision due date.
Early Action is an application you send in usually sometime in November. The college gives you an answer to your application typically sometime in January or February. An Early Action application isn’t binding, so you don’t have to attend that college if you get in. However, some schools do single-choice Early Action, which means you can only apply early to one school.
Early Decision is similar to Early Action, except that if you are accepted, you are obligated to attend that college. Decisions usually arrive before regular applications are due. If your application is deferred but you get admitted in the regular round of applications, you are no longer obligated to go to that school.
What Happens After the Decision
The college will either accept your application, defer you to the regular application pool, or reject you. If the college accepts you, whether or not you attend that college depends on the kind of application you submitted. If this was an Early Decision application, then that is the college you will be attending. You shouldn’t apply anywhere else.
If you sent in an Early Action application, you can apply to other schools knowing you have an acceptance under your belt, or you can decide to go to this school and not worry about any other schools. You don’t have to give them an answer until spring. The reason you should seriously consider finishing your other applications has to do with financial aid opportunities.
Every school receives your FAFSA®, but not every school will offer you the same kind of financial aid. A school you apply to as a regular applicant could offer you significantly better aid than the Early Action school does. Finances are a major consideration for most people applying to college, and giving yourself choices is the best way to ensure you’re spending your money wisely.
Deciding Whether Early Is Right for You
Applying Early Action appeals to many high school students because you get an early answer about whether or not you can attend your dream school. Early Decision is more difficult because being locked in before you submit any other applications can prevent you from getting better financial aid somewhere else. You also have less time to look at schools during your senior year, because you need to submit these applications so much sooner.
You do not need to apply Early Action or Early Decision to have a good chance of getting into college. Choose the application cycle that’s right for you.