Early Action vs. Early Decision

It’s important to know the difference between early action and early decision.

One of the most confusing aspects of college admission is their early admissions policy. Early admissions programs have become increasingly common with approximately two out of three of the country’s top universities and colleges offering some kind of early admissions program. It’s important to know the difference between early action and early decision. The two are extremely different and each plan can be beneficial to students, but only for those students who have thought through their college options.

What is Early Action?

Early action is an accelerated college application process in which students typically must complete their application in November. In most cases, students will receive a decision from college before January. Early action programs do not ask applicants to commit to attending if the student is accepted. Under early action, students can still apply to other colleges early and they can wait until the spring deadline to decide whether or not to attend.

A few colleges offer a special type of early action called single choice early action. Single choice has all the benefits of early action except students who chose single choice are not allowed to apply to other colleges early. The student is not bound in any way to the college through single choice early action. However, the college has the benefit that their early applicants have expressed a clear preference for their school. This makes it easier for the college to predict its application yield.

What is Early Decision?

Unlike early action programs, early decision programs are usually binding. “Binding” means that the applicant promises from the start that they will attend the school if their application is accepted. It is not an obligation to be taken lightly, since schools honor one another’s binding decisions. Because of the restrictions placed on applicants applying through early decision, a student should not apply early unless they are 100% sure that the college is the best choice for them.

Students should be very cautious if they plan to apply for financial aid. A student who gets accepted through early decision has no way to compare financial aid offers. This has come under fire as unfair to students from low-income families because they do not have the opportunity to compare financial aid offers. Some say this gives an unfair advantage to applicants from families who have more financial resources.

Here are few questions to ask yourself when deciding if you’re a right fit to apply for early action or early decision programs:

  • Have you have researched the colleges extensively?
  • Are you absolutely sure that the college is your first choice?
  • Is the college a strong match academically, socially and geographically for you?
  • Does the college meet or exceed the admission profile for SAT scores, GPA and class rank?
  • Has the college’s academic record been consistently solid over time?
  • Do the answers to the questions above override the risk of losing out on a preferred financial aid award?

Remember, early action and early decision are not to be taken lightly. You should get information as soon as possible directly from the admissions department at your first choice college to decide if this is the right step for you.

To learn more about how Westface College Planning can help you prepare for college call us at 650-587-1517 or sign up for one of our Tackling the Runaway Costs of College Workshops.

Photo Credit: velkr0

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