Nothing in the US application system is straightforward. This article describes the different types of application windows used by different colleges and universities.
Early Decision and Early Action
Many colleges allow students who are sure that they want to attend their institution to apply early. Common types of early application are ‘Early Decision’ and ‘Early Action’.
Applying early shows the student’s eagerness, which can increase the chance of gaining acceptance. For example, the acceptance rate into Brown University for students who applied to the university in 2016 through Early Decision was 22.1%, whereas for students who applied through Regular Application, the acceptance rate was 7.66%.
Let’s look at Early Decision and Early Action plan more closely...
To apply for most Early Decision and Early Action plans, students must be ready to hand in their application from about late November to early January. They will get to know the results from late December to February.
In addition, students can only apply to one college Early Decision. So they need to have done their research and know what their favourite college is.
Furthermore, if the student is accepted Early Decision, the acceptance is “binding”: unless they have not received enough financial aid to afford the tuition, they are obliged to enroll in the college.
Early Action is more flexible. Students can apply to several universities at once, and the acceptance is “non-binding”: even if they accept you, you do not necessarily have to enroll.
Another similar option is ‘Restrictive Early Action’. Students can only apply to one institution using Restrictive Early Action. However, acceptance decisions are non-binding, meaning that if the student has been accepted, they could still decide to reject the offer and go somewhere else.
Some schools divide both their Early Decision and Early Action plans into Early Decision I and II, and Early Action I and II. Most Early Decision/Action I deadlines are in November to mid-December, whereas Early Decision/Action II deadlines are generally closer to Regular Application plans, taking place from late December to early January. There is usually no difference between the ‘I’ and ‘II’ options except for the deadlines.
Early Decision and Early Action could be recommended to students who:
- Have already thoroughly researched colleges and universities, and have specific first-choice institutions
- Have their application materials ready early
- Care less about scholarships than getting acceptance to a higher tier school. This is important because students applying ED or EA will not be able to compare the financial aid they get from their ED or EA school with many other schools, unlike in the Regular Application plan.
Regular Application - as the name suggests - is the most common form of application.
Different institutions have different Regular Application deadlines. Normally these will be from early December to late January. Applicants will be notified whether or not they have been accepted from about March to April. All decisions made using Regular Application are non-binding.
Applying Regular Application is a good idea for students who:
- Must consider financial aid as a deciding factor in choosing the university they want to attend. Probably the biggest advantage of Regular Application is that students can compare the amount of scholarship they have been offered by each institution that offers them a place.
- Need more time to shortlist the institutions to which they would like to apply
- Need more time to prepare their college application materials (test scores, transcript, essays, etc.)
- Do not have a clear first-choice university
- Are on an upward academic trajectory and could do with an extra semester’s good grades to show on their transcript.
In this plan, the institution sets a starting date and then as students apply the institution fills up the available places with qualified candidates. Because the institution is constantly accepting applicants, if the student applies too late, even though they may well be qualified, they may be denied due to lack of space.
So for institutions offering Rolling Application students should apply as early as they can. A counselor at American School of Dubai even suggests that rolling applicants should submit their application in accordance with the Early application deadlines.
As with Regular Applications, acceptance decisions for Rolling Applications are non-binding.
Here is some advice on how to use the various application plans to the fullest advantage:
By letting your first choice institution know your commitment to it, Early Action/Decision could be a handy boost to your chances if you are a “borderline” applicant.
However, if you think your application could benefit by showing another semester’s good grades, it might be better to wait until the Regular Application deadlines.
According to a counselor at American School of Dubai, if a student’s family situation clearly demands significant financial aid, their chances of getting it could be boosted by applying Early Decision/Action. However, if the student’s financial situation is more ambiguous, they may be taking a financial risk by applying Early Decision/Action.
To have the option of applying either Early Action/Decision or Rolling Application, the student should do as much prep as possible over the summer before their final year at high school. They should try to complete the Common Application including the essay, and get their counsellor and teacher recommendations ready.
Sowon Yoon Bio:
I’m an incoming first-year student, attending Smith College, MA, from 2017 fall. This article is based on my experiences last year! I got into Smith College using the Early Decision method, but I also used Early Action and Regular Application in submitting my applications to various other institutions.