Early Decision, Early Action or Regular Decision: What students should consider before applying

  • What is Early Decision?

Early Decision (ED) is a type of admission where you apply early to a university, and if you are accepted, then you MUST attend. If you apply ED, you can still apply to other universities at the same time under their Early Action plans. ED may give you an admissions advantage as it shows your commitment to attend.

Some schools may offer two rounds of ED. ED I applications are usually due November 1st or 15th, although there are a few universities with applications due in early December. ED II applications are usually due January 1st or 15th, and you’ll hear back in February. Under the ED II plan, you’ll still want to submit Regular Decision applications as well, but will still attend your ED school if admitted.

Early Decision can be a strategic tool for an applicant.  In general, colleges that offer Early Decision acceptance rates to early applicants is higher than through regular decision. For example, in the 2021-22 admissions season (Class of 2026) Dartmouth accepted 21% of ED applicants, Duke accepted 21%, and Vanderbilt took in 24% (from ED I). Compare this to the acceptance rates for regular decision: Dartmouth: 4.7%; Duke: 4.6%; Vanderbilt: 4.7%

The first criteria in deciding to apply Early Decision is “did you fall in love with the college.” The litmus test is, if you are denied you should be very disappointed. With that said, soon after, you brush yourself off, move on, and embrace the process.

  • What is Early Action?

Early Action (EA) can come in different forms, but standard Early Action is non-binding. You can apply to as many schools EA as you’d like, and you are not obligated to attend if you’re accepted.

However, certain schools, such as Georgetown and Princeton, for instance, have single-choice early action, sometimes known as “restrictive” early action, which means that you can only apply to that one institution EA. You can still apply to any schools you’re interested in during the regular admission periods, though.

The primary difference between EA-restrictive and Early Decision is that if you’re accepted, you’re not obligated to attend. You also have until May 1st to make your decision, which means you can also scope out institutions you’re admitted to during regular admissions. 

The standard timeline for Early Action applications are typically due on or before November 1st and the expected notification day is mid-December.

Applying early offers several potential advantages such as reduced stress and time spent working on college applications and knowing where you’ll be attending ahead of time. However, when you apply early, you may have reduced financial aid opportunities and an added pressure of creating a time crunch with regular decision applications, which are typically due shortly after early admission decisions are released.

  • What about Regular Decision?

Regular Decision means you are not applying in the early round, and you will receive your admission decision in the spring – usually late-March into early-April. The Regular Decision application pool is larger and tends to be more selective in comparison to , Early Decision or Early Action.

Early Decision, Early Action or Regular Decision: What students should consider before applying

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