Early Action, Early Decision, or Single-Choice Early Action? The Ins and Outs of Applying Early to College

If you thought putting together a list of potential colleges was hard, here’s another question you have to address during college application season: to apply early, or not to apply early? College Board puts the number of colleges with early action options at 450. Given the huge number, it’s almost certain that a few of the colleges you’re applying to have an early admissions procedure.

So should you apply early? Before you do, be aware of what different early admission processes are out there, and definitely be sure to weigh the pros and cons of applying early!

First of all, what’s early admission, and what types are there?

Applying early basically means not only going through a school’s application process before its official deadline, but also getting an earlier response from them. Early admission deadlines usually require you to apply in mid-October or mid-November, which can be stressful. But the plus side is that you can get a definite answer from the college as early as mid-December!

Before you submit that application, are you sure you know the difference between all three early application processes? If not, read on below as we lay out the nitty gritty of Early Decision, Single-Choice Early Action, and Early Action!

Early Action (EA)

Let’s start with the least restrictive of the four. Early Action (EA), like ED and SCEA, involve earlier deadlines and earlier college decisions. But there, the similarities stop as EA, also known as non-binding early action, let’s you apply to as many other EA schools as you’d like to. You can also apply to an ED admission program as well, but be aware that you’ll have to give up your EA applications if you’re accepted to the ED school!

You can even apply to other colleges on their regular admission deadline and reject any EA admissions you receive should you choose to go somewhere else. So, come the November deadline, you can submit as many EA applications as you want, and you won’t be required to accept or reject them until spring rolls around.

Apply EA if…

Apply EA if you’re still juggling options, but you’d still like to receive your decisions earlier in the year rather than later. For Darci Miller, a University of Miami collegiette, EA not only gave her more time to prioritize her colleges, but it also gave her a finalized list early on from which she could make a choice.

“I applied to ten schools and didn't really have a first choice, so I didn't do early decision, which is binding,” explains Darci. “What was fantastic was that by the time April rolled around, I was only waiting for responses from two schools. I had a whole list of options before New Year's. For me, it wasn't about getting into my dream school as fast as possible. It was about having as many options as possible, as soon as possible, so I didn’t have to agonize over the decision.”

Want to keep your options open but have some peace of mind early on in the year? Then EA is for you!

Early Decision (ED)

If a college or university offers an Early Decision (ED) procedure, be prepared to attend that college if you are accepted. In most cases, applying ED to one school means that you’re forbidden from applying ED to others since ED is a binding commitment, especially where financial aid is involved.

You may, however, apply to schools that offer EA or regular deadlines since both are non-binding, but you’re required to rescind any applications you made to other schools if your ED application is successful. This intense focus on one college makes ED a “binding” process, as you must forgo other options that may come up.

Apply ED if…

If you’re seriously considering applying through a college’s ED procedure, take a step back and ask yourself if you’re absolutely sure you want that school over all other colleges on your list. Remember, an ED acceptance means that you must give up all other options to attend that college, so make sure the college you’re applying ED to is your top choice.

But despite all the stress that may come with ED, you can actually make the rest of your senior year wait bearable by getting early confirmation from your top school! Whether it’s good or bad, an early response will put you at some sort of ease and let you respond accordingly.

“I wanted to know where I was going to school, and not have to stress throughout my senior year,” explains Jamie Blynn, a junior at George Washington University. “I sent in a bunch of my applications to other schools before the deadline for GW and a few more afterwards. My parents' theory is that if I was rejected by GW I wouldn't want to have to fill out more applications.”

What happens if I get deferred or rejected?

The moment you’re deferred or rejected ED, you’re no longer bound to the college. While it’s not something you want to happen, remember that you can now explore your other options! After your December ED results are out, it’s time to step up your game and get your regular application materials ready. Even if you’re waiting on EA results, be prepared to apply to more colleges so you can be sure to have choices by the time April rolls around!