Navigating the competitive college application process is an exciting yet challenging journey for high school students, and many students are eager to press “submit” on their application to their dream school. For this reason, applying through Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED) can be appealing for those eager to secure their spot at their preferred institution, as it provides the peace of mind that comes from having the application process in the rear-view mirror and adds a competitive edge to their application. However, as November early application deadlines swiftly approach, students should critically and strategically consider their options to decide whether EA or ED is right for them.
Here are 3 critical considerations for students to keep in mind when preparing their EA or ED applications this fall:
1. Applying Early Can Boost An Applicant’s Chances of Admissions
One of the key motivations for many students to apply early is the potential this option has to increase an applicant’s chances of admission. Applying early is a demonstration of a student’s genuine desire to attend that school, and admitting early applicants can improve an institution’s matriculation data, giving them a compelling reason to favor early applicants. For instance, during the 2022-23 application cycle, Brown University accepted 13% of early decision applicants, more than double the 3.8% acceptance rate of regular decision applicants. Likewise, Harvard University accepted 7.56% of early action applicants, compared to 3.41% of total (early and regular) applicants.
At the same time, it’s important to note that while applying EA or ED can improve an applicant’s chances of admission, it doesn’t guarantee acceptance. In order to discern how much of a benefit early admissions can offer, students should compare the early acceptance rate to the regular decision acceptance rate at their top school. Additionally, while comparing admissions statistics, students should keep in mind that the heightened acceptance rate for early admissions is due in part to the fact that a higher percentage of qualified applicants are likely applying within the smaller pool of early admissions, so while the numbers may appear favorable, the applicant pool may also be more competitive.
2. There are Three Different Types of Early Applications—All With Different Guidelines
Different schools offer different types of early admission options, the primary three types being Early Action (EA), Restrictive Early Action (REA) or Single-Choice Early Action (SCEA), and Early Decision (ED). EA (offered at schools such as MIT and University of Chicago) is the most unrestricted option, providing students with the opportunity to apply early to as many schools they would like and not binding them to attend if accepted. REA/SCEA (offered at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale) allows students to apply early without obligating them to attend if accepted, but it limits students to only applying early to one school rather than to multiple schools on their list. Finally, ED (offered at Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, and the University of Pennsylvania) is both binding and restrictive—students can only apply ED to one school, and if accepted, they must attend.
3. Early Decision is Binding—So Students Should Honestly Evaluate Their Choices
Backing out of ED is only permitted under special circumstances, so students should weigh the pros and cons honestly and extensively before choosing this option. Students considering ED should carefully consider whether they are certain that they want to attend the school to which they are applying, asking themselves questions such as: Is this my dream school? Will I be disappointed if I cannot attend another school on my list? Have I visited this school? Do I feel confident that the location and campus community is right for me?
It is also essential to consider the financial aspects of the admissions process carefully. Students may be able to back out of the binding ED agreement if they cannot afford to attend the school, but additional financial documentation might be required. Therefore, students should be sure to explore the institution’s financial aid policies and conservatively estimate the cost of attendance. If the financial commitment is a concern, EA might be a more suitable choice as it allows applicants to compare financial aid offers from different schools.
Applying Early Action or Early Decision can be an advantageous strategy for high school students who have a clear top-choice college in mind. However, it is crucial for students to fully understand the differences between EA and ED, carefully consider the financial implications, and reflect on their personal and academic goals for the coming four years of their lives. By making an informed choice, applicants can embark on their college application journey with confidence and increase their chances of securing a coveted spot at their dream school.
Originally published on Forbes