What is the difference between Early Action (EA) and Early Decision (ED)?

Early Decision and Early Action are college application options which can simplify college decision-making, but are not good choices for every student. Generally, Early Decision and Early Action plans seek admission before November 1, and decisions are shared with you in December, while regular admission usually has winter deadlines with spring decisions. More than 450 (mostly private) colleges offer either or both options. Early Decision is binding, while Early Action is not.

Should I Apply Early Decision or Early Action?

Potential Benefits:

  • likely improved chance of admission (early acceptance rates are typically higher; ask school’s admission office if standards differ between early and regular admission)
  • reduced stress, time, and expense spent on applications

Potential Drawbacks:

  • since ED is binding, applicant may not compare multiple colleges with multiple prices. If significant financial aid is critical, applying ED is a little risky, because there will only be one offer. However, if the ultimate net price is truly unsustainable for the family, colleges are usually generous about releasing the applicant.
  • pressure to decide before considering all options
  • if not admitted, pressure to find and apply to alternative colleges with tight application timelines
  • possible ‘senioritis’ (lowered academic performance) can cause school to rescind offer
  • backing out on your binding ED commitment would reflect poorly on you and your high school; many colleges share ED lists, so your chances of acceptance elsewhere may be jeopardized

Since Early Decision (ED) is a BINDING process, you may only apply to ONE college ED, although you can still apply to other schools via regular decision. If the ED school accepts you and offers adequate financial aid, you MUST attend that school and withdraw ALL other applications. Some colleges require you, your parents, and school counselor to sign a form indicating your understanding of these conditions.

Usual ED Timeline: Application before November 1 | Decision in December | Deposit in February
ED II Timeline (fewer schools, December 2018 list): Application in January | Decision in February Early Action (EA) is a NON-binding process. Generally, you may apply to multiple colleges through EA (some schools only allow single-choice EA), and you can apply to other schools via regular decision. EA allows you to compare financial aid packages and other criteria, giving you more time to find your best-fit college at the right price. Most EA schools will notify you of admission in December, but you may wait until May 1 before choosing.

Usual EA Timeline: Application before November 1 | Decision in December/January/February | Deposit by May 1 Remember: adequate ED or EA financial aid is based on the FAFSA/Expected Family Contribution (EFC)/CSS Profile for need, not your family’s definition of financial need. You might choose to apply ED/EA if you:

  • have researched extensively and are 100% sure you’ve found your best-fit school (based on academics, location, etc.)
  • meet or exceed the expected test scores, GPA, and class rank for the school (October test dates are the last eligible scores to submit)
  • have a solid academic record you can maintain as a senior
  • are a high-achieving, low-income student in the Questbridge program, a nonprofit who “matches” students to full scholarships through ED/EA admissions

Do NOT apply ED/EA if you:

  • have not completed your college research
  • are uncertain which college is your first choice, best-fit
  • if your application isn’t yet strong by November senior year
  • need to evaluate financial aid packages from multiple schools before determining which to accept

By making your decision early, you can enjoy your senior year without the stress of completing more applications. If you’re still unsure whether to apply early, contact us at OnToCollege: 402-475-7737 or your college counselor.