Early action can be the best of both worlds: It combines the anxiety-easing early notification of early decision with the timeline of regular admissions.

That is to say, you can get accepted in December or January and wait — usually — until May 1 to decide whether this is in fact the right school for you. All told, it’s a pretty good deal. But if you’ve been accepted to a school early action, you may find yourself with a whole new set of questions, chiefly about whether you should accept immediately or hold off until you hear from other schools.

Marci Colb, a college consultant and member of College Consultants of Colorado, says it’s always case by case. “How I advise a student depends on where they are with that particular school. If it is their first-choice school and they really want to go there without any considerations, such as financial aid or sports, I would suggest they accept and be done thinking about it.”

Of course, these problems may seem like a luxury if you’re deferred or denied early action, but even that has a bright side: time to reevaluate your applications and apply to more schools. So whether early action decisions have left you with more questions than answers or more applications to complete, here’s what to consider before signing on any dotted line.

If You’re Accepted Early Action

If you accept and change your mind, you will lose your deposit.

In the grand scheme of what college costs, the $500 or so deposit may not seem like a huge deal for some students, but since waiting until the deadline costs you nothing, you might as well wait. And while all colleges understand things happen and plans change, Veronica Moore, a college consultant in New York and Connecticut, says you should avoid going back on your word if you can. “It’s a good idea not to send your deposit unless you are sure you want to attend,” she says. “Plus, if a few students do this, it can cause your high school to lose favor with the college, which may or may not impact future applicants.”

You may not have all your financial aid info — or you could still receive a better offer.

Some schools will inform you of your financial aid package when you’re admitted, even if it’s early action, but others may delay telling you until all students, including those applying for regular admissions, are notified. If you do get the financial aid package you were hoping for, you’ll probably want to celebrate — and you should — but don’t forget this: A better package could still come along from another school.

You applied Single-Choice or Restrictive Early Action.

If neither of these terms came up while you were applying, you most likely applied standard early action admissions, which is nonbinding. However, you definitely want to be aware of two options that a few schools are now using.

Most schools with Single-Choice Early Action (SCEA) simply won’t let you apply early elsewhere. However, you can apply to other colleges and public universities through regular admissions as long as decisions are nonbinding. Decisions are nonbinding and you do not need to make your decision until May 1. Restrictive Early Action is more flexible. Like regular early action, it is nonbinding, and while you can only apply REA to one college, you can apply early action to other schools.

If You’re Deferred

Demonstrate interest and improve your application.

If you applied early action and were deferred, do not lose hope. There are things you can do to improve your chances during regular admissions, starting with sending a letter to the admissions office, ideally addressed to a counselor you were in touch with during the application process. “Let the school know that you are disappointed with the deferral, but that it in no way detracts from your heartfelt interest in attending,” says Moore. Then keep the school abreast of any changes in your record: third-quarter grades, higher SAT® or ACT® scores and any kind of athletic or extracurricular awards.

If You’re Denied

Get a second opinion of your application from someone you trust.

Before sending your application to more schools, consider asking your high school counselor or other adviser to look over it. A few years ago, Jill Madenberg, coauthor of Love the Journey to College: Guidance from an Admissions Consultant and Her Daughter and principal at Madenberg College Consulting, had a student come to her after being deferred or rejected by several schools during their early action rounds, and upon reviewing the application, she found a few critical mistakes. “By fixing the errors, updating her list of activities and honors and getting in touch with admission counselors, she was ultimately admitted to several great colleges,” Madenberg says.

Getting in early action is an achievement worth celebrating. But being deferred or even rejected has its advantages too. It gives you time to reflect, recalibrate and redo your applications in time to succeed during the regular admissions process.

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