Should I Apply Early for College?

Should I Apply Early for College?

Deciding to apply early for college is a smart choice if you’ve thought through your college choices carefully, you know where you want to go, and you’re ready to move forward. Understand that early action applicants can consider multiple universities, while early decision applicants must enroll in their college of choice if accepted.

When to Apply Early for College

Before you start thinking about applying early for college, make sure you’ve researched your school choices extensively. You might be particularly excited about one college in particular, but you should also take the time to research the other options that meet your budget-, geographic-, and academic needs.

After researching your options, you’ll need to be relatively certain that any college to which you apply early is the right choice for you. That means it should have strong academic programs in your area of interest and offer social opportunities that will help to round out your college experience. The college should also be in a geographic area that’s ideal for you, and it should fit into your budget.

If you’re planning to apply early, you should also make sure that you meet or exceed the school’s requirements for incoming students. Confirm that your SAT or ACT scores, GPA, class rank, and academic performance are all in line with the university’s admission profile. After all, you want to be sure that the school you’ve chosen will welcome you as a student.

When to Apply for Early Action

There are two ways to apply early for college, and early action (EA) offers the most flexibility. When you apply as an EA candidate, you’ll need to submit your application at least a month or two earlier than the standard deadline. In most cases, you can apply as an EA candidate to more than one college. You can also submit additional college applications before the standard deadline, which is January 1 for the common application.

You’ll receive a response from your EA schools a couple of months ahead of the standard timeline, usually in January or February. Although you can make a decision right away and either accept or decline the college’s offer, you can also wait to compare offers from other colleges. You’ll have to make your final decision by May 1, which is the standard response deadline.

If you’ve done your research, there are relatively few drawbacks to applying for EA. You’ll need to get your application materials in order a couple of months ahead of schedule, which can be challenging during senior year. Also, understand that some schools have a single-choice EA plan, which means you can submit only one EA application and as many standard applications as you choose.

When to Apply for Early Decision

While EA is relatively flexible, early decision (ED) requires a significant commitment. You’ll typically apply to your first-choice in November, and you’ll receive a decision as early as December. If your ED college accepts your application, you’re required to enroll, as long as the financial aid package that the school offers meets your family’s needs.

You can only submit one ED application, but you can apply to other schools before the standard deadline. However, there’s a good chance you’ll have to respond to your ED school’s acceptance letter before receiving any other decisions or financial aid packages from other colleges. Once you accept your ED school’s offer, you’ll have to withdraw any other college applications you’ve submitted.

Although ED is a smart choice for students who are 100 percent sure about their college choice, it does have some drawbacks, especially if you’re hesitant to commit. If any factors make you change your mind about your first-choice college between the time you apply and the time you receive an acceptance letter, reversing your decision could be difficult. After all, when you submit your ED application, you’ll usually have to agree to a strict set of terms and conditions.

From a financial perspective, there are a couple of additional downsides. You’ll have to submit a non-refundable deposit to your ED school in the early spring. In some cases, you may end up accepting a financial aid package that’s much less attractive than what other schools would offer you.

Whether you’re ready to apply early for college or you’re going to stick to the standard timeline, it’s never too early to start thinking about how to pay for college. Get started on your financial aid applications by filling out the FAFSA® form and check this important task off your college prep checklist.