Should I Apply Early Decision or Early Action?

Applying to college By: Susanna Cerasuolo, M.Ed.
In a word, yes. It typically increases your chances of acceptance.  In fact, some colleges have done away with their Early programs because it is most often socio-economically advantaged students who know to apply this way.  To decide if applying early is right for you, let’s look at the differences and what each one means.  If your GPA and test scores are high or above average, then do apply Early.  If financial aid is not an issue, and if you can identify your clear top choice, then strongly consider applying ED because that is a huge advantage if the rest of your app is strong.  (And always be sure to interview wherever possible!)
Early Decision vs. Early Action
Early Decision is a binding application you send to only one college; you pledge to go there if accepted.  ED is a binding contract.  You can only apply ED to one college, and your counselor and your parent usually have to give their consent, because it is a commitment on your part.  Kids applying ED are usually not requesting financial aid because they are agreeing up front to go there, so ED kids don’t get to consider all of their financial aid options.  If you apply to a school that is needed blind but that gives lots of merit aid, and if you still can’t afford to go there after they give you their financial aid package, then and only then are you allowed to break the contract and go elsewhere.
Students applying ED can also apply Early Action to other colleges (unless the ED specifically states you cannot) because EA is not binding.  If you are applying ED, I recommend that you do apply EA to your other colleges, where possible.
Early Action is not a binding type of application.  It just means that you submitted your app before other kids and it makes you look quite interested, which helps.  Colleges are far more likely to make you an offer if you are going to accept it, and that’s what EA signifies.  You should apply EA everywhere possible.  You can apply EA to as many colleges as you like.  You are not obligated in any way.
If your scores and GPA are high or above average, then it is helpful for you to apply Early, under either plan.  If your scores are average, then it can help to boost you over the edge into safe territory.
If your scores are low, then you should call your admissions rep at each college and ask what they would recommend that you do.  Usually, they are happy to tell you if applying Early would give you a boost or if it would put you in a more qualified pool and be a disadvantage.  I recently heard a panel of admissions officers say that they early pool is not always more qualified, so call and ask each college.
In general, applying Early helps you, so I do suggest it.  And be aware that if the Early deadline is November 1st, then you actually want to submit your materials two weeks prior so that everything will be received in the college’s office and *marked as received in the system* and *filed in your file*.  DO NOT think that applying the night before is good enough, especially for famous name schools.  ALL of your materials–test scores, transcript, rec letters, application, any supplemental materials required and fee–need to be received and logged as such by the college.  PLAN AHEAD and do not FedEx and overnight and rush materials to schools because it makes you look like a person who can’t organize him or herself.  You want your materials to arrive calmly, according to the normal pattern of things.  Don’t stand out for bad reasons.
Also, let’s understand a thing or two about mail going into admissions offices.  Admissions offices receive multiple bins of mail per day during peak app season, and someone has to sort all of that mail into the right places, and someone else has to catalog it all as received.  This takes a long time, so mail your things well in advance.  (For Common App colleges, rec letters are digital, so this mail scenario applies to transcripts and supplemental materials.)
The bottom line is, applying Early usually helps you, so get yourself organized, edit your essays a bunch, and go for it!


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