Is Early Decision or Early Action Right for You?

Short answer: Maybe.

Early Decision I and II
Early decision applications create a binding contract between you and the school.

“You’re pretty much saying you’re my first choice,” says Pete Tarini, a counselor at Park Vista Community High School.

You can only apply early decision to one school at a time. If accepted, you must attend that school.

Some schools offer Early Decision I and Early Decision II programs.
While the dates vary from school to school, most Early Decision I deadlines are in November. Students may learn whether they were accepted as early as December.

Early Decision II comes later, with applications usually due in January and decisions released in February.

Why two deadlines? Some schools offer Early Decision II to encourage students who missed the Early Decision I deadline. It’s also convenient if your Early Decision I application wasn’t accepted. You now have a few weeks to apply early to your next-favorite school.

Early Decision II also creates a binding contract between you and the school. If you’re accepted, you have to attend.

Pros and Cons of Early Decision
Let’s be honest, not every college can accept every applicant. Applying early decision may increase your odds of being accepted.

“Some schools accept 50% or more of their applicants during the early decision process,” says Tarini.

But because you can only apply early decision to one school at a time, you may lose some of your financial aid negotiating power. When you apply to multiple schools, you can look at each school’s financial aid offer and decide which is best for you. With early decision, you get what you get.

Once accepted, there are very few extreme situations that will get you out of an early decision binding contract. If you’re accepted to School A via early decision and decide to go to School B instead, School A might call School B and let them know you violated a contract. This could get you dropped from both schools.

“A college can always rescind their admission decision,” says Tarini.

Early Action

Early action allows a student to apply to and receive a decision from a school early, but unlike early decision, the application is nonbinding. Most colleges allow you to apply to multiple schools using this method. With early action, applications are usually due by early November, and decisions are released by the end of December.

Make It Happen
Talk to your school counselor about whether early decision or early action is right for you.

Pro tip: Applying early, even if it’s not through early action or early decision, may increase your odds of getting accepted. As schools’ openings fill up, they may become more selective. Plus, if your application is deferred, you have time to get your grades up or retake the ACT and/or SAT.