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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!
And then there’s ED II…

Some universities like Brandeis, Emory, and many liberal arts colleges offer two ED deadlines instead of one. ED II deadlines are usually set for December or January following results from the first ED round, meaning that if you apply ED II, you can take more time getting your materials ready!

Aside from the deadline, ED II works very much the same way as ED I. While you can still wait for any EA results you have yet to hear from and apply to regular deadlines, you must rescind any application or reject any offer if you’re accepted ED II. So when you’re applying ED II, be just as careful to choose one of your top, if not your top, choices.

Apply ED II if…

One of ED II’s biggest advantages is that it gives you a shot at another top choice should your ED I pick not work out. Many students find this to be very useful, as Kenyon College senior Maddy Foley can attest.

“As a high school senior, I basically had two schools that I wanted to attend: Carleton and Kenyon. I knew that Carleton was more of a reach, so I applied there ED I,” remembers Maddy. “I ended up going ED II to Kenyon, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

If you have another top choice in mind or you’re divided over applying ED once the ED I deadline comes up, ED II would be a great choice for you! Not only do you have a backup in case your first choice falls through, you also have time to prepare for another shot at one of your best options.

What happens if I’m deferred or rejected?

Like ED I, a deferral or rejection following ED II opens you to all your regular admission and EA options. But unlike ED I, you’ll be applying for ED II during many regular admission deadlines, so make sure to prepare both your ED II application and your regular applications! Many ED II decisions don’t come out until the end of January to mid-February, which isn’t too much sooner than regular decisions. While you should still be prepared to rescind applications and reject offers from other universities, don’t leave yourself unprepared in case ED II doesn’t work out.

Single-Choice Early Action (SCEA)

Finally, some colleges like Yale and Stanford offer a rare option that combines elements of both ED and EA. Known as Single-Choice Early Action (SCEA), this procedure restricts your early admission options like ED, but is also non-binding like EA.

What does that mean? It means that while you can’t apply early to any other college until you receive your decision, you can not only fill in as many regular decision applications as you’d like, but you also don’t need to formally respond to the college until April.

So let’s say you applied SCEA to Stanford. You would have to make sure that Stanford is the only college you would apply early to, but you can also continue applying to the rest of your colleges so long as they’re your regular decision candidates. When you get your result back from Stanford, you can either choose to either accept or reject Stanford right away if the college gives you an offer, or you can wait until your regular admission deadlines are out to choose.

Apply SCEA if…

If you’re sure that you don’t want to apply early to any other college, but you want a backup in case you change your mind! A lot of the reasons to apply SCEA are the same as those that would motivate you to apply EA, though just be aware that you’re not allowed to apply early to any other college.

What happens if I’m deferred or rejected?

If you weren’t accepted SCEA but you would still like to apply early, you can apply ED II or EA to another one of your top colleges offers it so long as the deadline falls after results come out. Don’t want to apply early? Then keep preparing your regular admission documents!

The last word about early applications

Statistics show that early applicants make up the majority of a school’s final enrolled student body, meaning that early applicants could have a higher chance of getting into their college of choice than regular applicants do. So if you have one college (or a few colleges) that you would absolutely love to attend, don’t be afraid to apply early! Regular admissions are fine as well, but as all collegiettes can attest, it also wouldn’t hurt to have some peace of mind, especially as a college senior.

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Annie Pei

U Chicago

Annie is a Political Science major at the University of Chicago who not only writes for Her Campus, but is also one of Her Campus UChicago's Campus Correspondents. She also acts as Editor-In-Chief of Diskord, an online op-ed publication based on campus, and as an Arts and Culture Co-Editor for the university's new Undergraduate Political Review. When she's not busy researching, writing, and editing articles, Annie can be found pounding out jazz choreography in a dance room, furiously cheering on the Vancouver Canucks, or around town on the lookout for new places, people, and things. This year, Annie is back in DC interning with Voice of America once again!