You have more power than you think in the college application process.
It may feel like you’re being buffeted by the winds of fate and the whims of admissions officers, but knowing what schools are looking for and clearly defining what you want to get out of your education (especially financing it), lets you tailor the application process.
Applying early decision vs early action vs regular decision is somewhere you have agency.
Schools set their own application deadlines and types, but you choose what works for you.
Keep reading for:
- Definitions of each application deadline option
- Pros and Cons of the early deadline options
- What questions to ask yourself
Don’t overstress though.
Firstly, not every school offers these early application deadlines.
Secondly, many US schools accept 50-70% of applicants without early decision or early action - so it can help, but it’s not absolutely necessary.
College Application Deadline Definitions
Here are the options:
- Regular Decision (the absolute deadline for everyone)
- Rolling Admissions (applications accepted all year long)
- Priority Deadline (important adjustment to the flexibility of rolling admissions)
- Early Decision (a binding agreement - you can only apply this way for one college)
- Early Decision II (a second chance at a binding agreement with a different school)
- Early Action (the non-binding one - you can use it for multiple colleges)
- Restricted Early Action (non-binding but you can only apply this way for one college)
What Is “Regular Decision”
The most basic type of application deadline.
Depending on schools, it could be November 30th, December 1st, December 15th, January 1st, January 15th, or later.
This is a hard, final deadline. If your application is not in, you must wait until next year to apply.
What Is “Rolling Admissions”
If schools don’t follow the normal timeline and trajectory, they might accept applications year-round.
But don’t be fooled.
Even if colleges accept applications anytime, keep an eye out for priority deadlines…
What Is “Priority Deadline”
Schools that take applications year-round still need to organize yearly housing, financial aid, etc., so they often have a priority deadline for those extra considerations.
This is important if you’re interested in:
- Having your application taken more seriously,
- Getting guaranteed housing, and
- Being offered merit or financial aid.
What Is “Early Decision”
All early application deadlines accomplish at least 3 things:
- Signals to a school that you are serious about attending
- Gets your application seen before the rest of the regular applicant pool
- Gets you a much quicker response to your application
…but early decision is the most serious commitment of the early application options.
Applying early decision means if you’re accepted, you’re locked into attending that school.
With deadlines around mid-October to early November, early decision tells a college that they’re your first choice school.
They’ll respond around mid-December with:
- An acceptance letter,
- A rejection letter, or
- A deferment (they’ll consider your application against “regular decision” applicants; you’re not held to your binding agreement anymore).
What Is “Early Decision II”
You want to toss your hat in the ring, but perhaps not right away.
It’s the same rules as the first early decision deadline, but with a bigger applicant pool and later due date (often coincides with the final regular decision deadline).
This application type helps if you:
- Missed the early decision I deadline
- Need more time to beef up your application
- Weren’t accepted in the early decision I round and want to try again at a different school
What Is “Early Action”
Early action usually has the same deadlines as early decision (apply in October or November and get school response by mid-December) but with more flexibility.
The main differences?
- You aren’t required to attend that school if admitted.
- You can apply early action to several schools.
- You can take your time deciding and comparing offers.
What Is “Restricted Early Action”
A hybrid version of early action and early decision; also known as “single-choice early action.”
Like early action, you aren’t required to attend if offered a spot (and you have until national response day - May 1 - to give your answer), but you do receive an early response from the school.
Like early decision, you’re only allowed to apply to one school early, rather than many.
For example, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Notre Dame, and others offer early action, but only if you apply early to them exclusively. Competitive, sought-after schools want to know you’re serious about them and not simply taking advantage of early application benefits.
You can still apply “regular decision” to as many schools as you’d like.
Pros And Cons Of Early Decision vs Early Action
Lower your anxiety around the challenging college admissions process by getting ready and figuring out where you’re going to school as early as possible.
Pros And Cons Of Early Decision I
Positives of Early Decision I
Negatives of Early Decision I
The Pros And Cons Of Early Decision II
Pluses of Early Decision II
Minuses to Early Decision II
Same as Early Decision I, plus:
Same as Early Decision I, except:
Pros And Cons Of Early Action
Pros of Early Action
Cons of Early Action
Pros And Cons Of Restricted Early Action
Less Good Stuff
Same as early action above, plus:
How Do I Choose Between Early Decision vs Early Action vs Regular Decision?
Do your research because schools on your college list might make the early decision vs early action choice for you.
Otherwise, these questions can help.
If the answer’s yes, it’s worth considering an early application option. If the answer’s no, regular decision might be best.
- Does one of your top three schools offer early action or early decision?
- If that school said yes, would you go?
- Have you looked at financial aid implications? Are you in a position to accept what you might (or might not) get?
- Are you in the top 25% in terms of test scores and grades?
- Are your GPA, extracurriculars, and application materials strong enough yet?
- Have you put enough time and effort into your application to feel proud?
- Do you match the school’s mission/vision? Do they match yours?
- Have you demonstrated interest?
- Again, are you 100% sure you’d go there if they said yes?
Still on the fence? Take a look at this early decision vs regular decision spreadsheet that Jeff Levy and Jeannie Kent produce yearly, examining what percentage of applicants get accepted early vs regular decision at the top 200-ish schools.
It doesn’t mean you’re absolutely more likely to get in if you apply early decision vs early action, but it may inspire you to commit to early - or roll the dice on regular decision.
At March Consulting, we recommend applying early ONLY if it is to YOUR benefit.
If it doesn’t feel right, set yourself up for success with regular decision deadlines.
Want expert help making these tough decisions? Reach out to us with questions. We can provide you with a solid game plan for creating a stellar college list and the strongest possible college applications.