Quick: Think of three things you’re looking forward to during your senior year.

Perhaps you said homecoming, or you can’t wait to be captain of the soccer team, or you are so ready to edit the school newspaper. But the nitty gritty of the college admissions process? That’s probably not in your top ten.

If you’d like to get the process started and you have an idea of what your top-choice schools are, you may consider applying early decision or early action.

You’ll need to get all of your materials together on a much shorter timeframe, but the payoff is finding out which school you’re attending before most of your peers. Early decision and early action applicants also potentially spend less time and money applying to multiple schools.

Is either of these options right for you? Here’s what you need to know about early decision and early action.

The Timeline

Early decision: You must apply by early November and will typically receive an answer in December. If you’re admitted, you’ll be completely finished with the college application process by winter break. That leaves the entire spring semester to enjoy your senior year and start planning for college.

Early action: You must apply by early November and will typically receive an answer by January or February. That’s later than early decision, but it’s still earlier than regular admissions students, who apply in December or January and hear back in March or April.

The Commitment

Early decision: This is the most restrictive form of admission since your application is binding. That means if you are accepted to a school early decision and the financial aid package allows, you must attend and withdraw your applications to other schools. 

Early action: In most cases, applicants can still apply to other schools and compare financial aid offers. Should cost be an important factor in your college selection, this can be a big advantage. If you get competing offers from two schools, you may also be able use one to negotiate a better package from the other.

The Process

Early decision: If admitted early decision, you can start making plans to enroll. If you are deferred (to be reconsidered with the regular-admission applicant pool) or rejected, you’ll need to apply to more schools in December or January. It’s smart to prepare a few additional applications for regular decision so you aren’t in a time crunch if you need to apply to other schools.

Early action: If you’re admitted to a school early action, you’ll have the option of attending, but you are not required to. With that in mind, don’t wait to start pulling together your regular-decision applications in case you want to apply to other schools. 

If early decision or early action sounds like a good idea to you, make an appointment with your high school counselor to talk through these options in more detail and to create a plan for applying. With deadlines only a couple months away, there’s no time like the present to start taking next steps.


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