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What to Know About Early Decision vs. Early Action

Applying to college early can have its benefits—from less competition to higher acceptance rates.

Typically, colleges offer either early action or early decision options for students to apply early. US News recently looked at the key differences between the two options and highlighted factors applicants should consider before applying early.

EARLY DECISION

Applying to a school via early decision has big benefits. One of those benefits is higher a acceptance rate. According to data from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, schools offering early decision options tend to have higher admission rates for early decision applicants compared to their overall admission rates, with figures of 61% and 49%, respectively.

The biggest differentiator of the early decision process is the binding commitment. If you’re accepted into a school via early decision, you’re required to attend. Applicants can only choose one school to apply to via early decision, so the school you choose should be your top choice.

“Everyone says you should fall in love with a place before you apply early decision,” Joel Hart, senior associate dean of admissions and director of operations at Pomona College in California, says. “And I’m not sure that you can fall in love with what you think an institution is going to be. You can’t know until you’ve enrolled what that experience is really going to be like.”

While your top choice school should be the one you apply to early decision, experts recommend applying to other schools via early action while awaiting your decision. Early action isn’t a binding commitment, which means you can apply to multiple colleges at a time.

“I always encourage people to continue with the big list,” Milyon Trulove, vice president and dean of admission and financial aid at Reed College in Oregon, says. “So yes, that school might be your primary choice, but you might have a third, fourth, fifth and sixth choice. Because admission is not guaranteed, you want to keep those other options alive until you are at the point of deciding.”

EARLY ACTION

Similar to early decision, early action allows you to apply to a college before the regular admissions timeline with deadlines typically in November or December. The biggest difference? Early action doesn’t have a binding commitment.

“It still shows that they’re super interested in attending that institution and that they would like to hear back quickly on their application,” Caitlin Locke, director of undergraduate recruitment at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, says. “But it gives that buffer room where they can have a little more time to weigh out their options, apply to other schools and really dive deeply into that decision-making process throughout their senior year.”

Sources: US News, National Association for College Admission Counseling

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