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Should You Apply Early Decision to Your First Choice College?

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should-i-apply-early-decision-or-early-actionWith the release of the 2013–2014 online Common Application last week, now is a good time for high school seniors to start thinking about their timeline for college applications.

Applying early can have a major impact on your college admissions results. So before you decide to do so, you need to understand the different programs, as well as the implications of choosing to participate in one or more of them.

Basically, there are four kinds of early application programs:


In this non-binding program, you apply by the 1st to 15th of November and receive an admissions decision by the middle of December. A few colleges offer EA-II, with a due date sometime in January and admission notice about six weeks later. You can be admitted, deferred, or denied admission. If admitted, you don’t have to reply until May 1 of the following year. EA colleges do not have any restrictions regarding how many other early applications you submit.


Also known as Early Action, Single Choice

This is another non-binding program used most notably by Stanford University and Yale, where you apply by November 1 and hear back from the schools by the middle of December. Like EA programs, you can be admitted, deferred, or denied admission. The difference between REA and regular EA is that you may not apply Early Decision to other colleges, though some REA colleges allow students to apply EA and/or Rolling Admissions to public institutions. Check with admissions offices to learn more about each college application policy. If admitted, you don’t have to reply until May 1 of the following year.


In this binding contract application program, you apply by the 1st to 15th of November and receive your admissions decision by the middle of December. A few colleges offer ED-II, with a due date sometime in January and admission notice about six weeks later. You can be admitted, deferred, or denied admission, but, if you are admitted, then you are legally bound to attend that school. You may not apply Early Decision to any other colleges, but may be able to apply EA, EA-II, ED-II, or Rolling Admissions to other colleges, depending upon their individual application policies.


Some colleges offer freshmen applicants this application program, in which applications are accepted, evaluated, and decided upon as they are received (from as early as September until a final deadline sometimes as late as the following summer). Whenever you are accepted, you still have until May 1 to decide whether or not you want to attend the school. You can also apply early to any other colleges you like.

College applications don’t need to be stressful.

Check out adMISSION Possible for a step-by-step guide to earning your acceptance letter.


Things to Consider When Applying Early

Here are some important implications of applying early that you should be aware of:

  • Under certain circumstances, applying Early Decision can increase your chances of being accepted by a college. However, applying ED shouldn’t be done as an admissions tactic, but rather as a decision based on the fact that you’ve fallen in love with a school. If you apply Early Decision and get accepted, once you say yes, that’s the end of the admissions game for you. There’s no turning back.
  • Applying Early Decision can temporarily or permanently stop you from carefully considering other colleges. If you apply ED, you can’t apply to any other college until you’ve heard whether or not you’ve been accepted, deferred, or rejected by that college.
  • Applying Early Decision is not a good idea if you are not a competitive applicant for a college. Students who are accepted in the ED process tend to be students who fall into the “admissible range” of previously accepted students. You can find that information on college admissions websites.
  • Applying Early Decision may not be a good idea if you need financial aid. If you are admitted ED, you lose the opportunity to compare financial aid packages from other schools that might offer you more aid, especially when it comes to merit scholarships.

    If you do choose to apply EA, REA, or ED to a college, not only do you need to meet the 11/1 or 11/15 deadline for getting your application in, but, if you are applying for financial aid, you must also get the CSS Financial Aid Profile form in by the same date. Colleges also often ask for parents’ federal tax returns. Be aware that in addition to the PROFILE form, some colleges have their own separate financial aid forms that they want you to complete.
  • In general, waiting to apply regular decision is a smart decision for students with less competitive grades and test scores. If your academic records and test scores are below the average accepted applicant range, waiting to apply regular decision gives you the opportunity to potentially present better grades, higher test scores, and important new developments in your extracurricular activities.

If you’re a little overwhelmed by all this, take a deep breath, spend some time identifying the colleges you like best, determine if they offer an early application program and which type it is, evaluate the pros and cons of applying early, and then decide if an early program is a good choice for you.

Stuck on your application essay?

Check out Fiske Real College Essays That Work to find inspiration from more than 100 real essays that got students accepted to their top-choice schools.


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Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz is author of adMISSION POSSIBLE: The “Dare to Be Yourself” Guide for Getting into the Best Colleges for You, and founder/director of www.admissionpossible.com, a free college admissions information and resources website. An award-winning author, speaker, and professional counselor, Hansen Shaevitz is a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), Associate Member of the Independent Educational Consultant’s Association (IECA) and a Unigo Expert Network columnist. She is a former member of Stanford University’s Parents’ Board and chair of the Advisory Council for Stanford’s Institute for Women & Gender. She spent twelve years as a trustee for La Jolla Country Day School. Hansen Shaevitz has a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from Stanford University, was Orientation Officer at the East West Center, a member of the Dean of Students staff at Stanford, and directed the College Re-Entry Program at the University of California, San Diego.

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