Should You Apply Early Decision or Early Action?

Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA) require a college application before November 1 (sometimes November 15). Admissions decisions are shared in December. Regular admission and ED2 usually have January deadlines with spring decisions. More than 450 (mostly private) colleges offer either or both ED and EA. Nearly 80% of colleges do not offer ED or EA.

Potential Benefits

  • Improved chance for admission (opinions vary; acceptance rates are often higher than for regular decision applicants; ask admission office if standards differ between early and regular admission)
  • Reduced stress, time, and expense spent on applications

Potential Drawbacks

  • Pressure to decide before considering all options
  • Reduced financial aid options. Often Early Decision applicants have to make a binding commitment to a college in December before knowing the precise financial aid offer until the spring– like buying a car before knowing the exact price.
  • Brief amount of time to apply to other colleges Regular Decision (if not admitted ED)

About Early Decision

Early Decision (ED) is a binding process. You may only apply to one college Early Decision, although you can still apply later to other schools Regular Decision. If the Early Decision school accepts you, you must attend that school and withdraw all other applications– often before knowing the final financial aid offer. Thus, those seeking significant financial aid typically cannot afford to apply Early Decision.

Usual ED Timeline: Application before November 1 | Decision in December | Deposit in February

ED II Timeline (fewer schools, 2023-2024 list): Application in January | Decision in February

About Early Action

Early Action (EA) is a non-binding process. Generally, you apply to multiple colleges through Early Action (some schools only allow single-choice Early Action) and apply to other schools via Regular Decision. Early Action lets you compare financial aid packages and other offers, giving you more time to find your best-fit college at the right price. Early Action schools notify you of admission before January, but you may wait until May 1 before choosing. 

Usual EA Timeline: Application by November 1 | Decision in December | Deposit by May 1

This College Board ED/EA calendar can be a helpful resource.

Applying Early Decision or Early Action

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, cost, etc.)
  • Meet or exceed the expected test scores, GPA, and class rank for the college (October test dates are the last scores eligible for consideration)
  • Are a high-achieving, low-income student in the Questbridge program, a nonprofit which “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
  • Feel peer pressured by friends or family
  • May improve your academic record significantly senior fall
  • Need to evaluate financial aid packages before determining acceptance

If you’re still unsure whether to apply early, you and your family should meet with your high school counselor.