One of the most complicated parts of applying to college is deciding whether to apply Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED).  The key difference between the two is that Early Decision is binding whereas Early Action is not. Barring special cases like your Early Decision school not offering sufficient financial aid, you have to attend in the fall.  Most schools allow you to apply to as many schools Early Action as you want. But again, there are caveats. For instance, Yale allows you to apply Early Action but only if they’re the only institution you apply to early. Or you can apply to Georgetown Early Action so long as you don’t apply to any schools Early Decision.  Further complicating matters, there are a number of schools which offer Early Decision II which lets you apply with a second batch of ED candidates in early January. Often students will use this option if they get rejected from their first choice ED and are really passionate about their second.


As with all aspects of the admissions process, educating yourself about the ins-and-outs of each school is essential.  Additionally, staying organized during your college search will ensure that you don’t miss any deadlines. Try making a spreadsheet of each school to which you’re applying, whether you’re applying Early Decision, Early Action or through their regular admissions process and when each of those due dates are.


The primary benefit of applying either ED or EA is that you raise your chances of getting into your top schools.  Brown’s Early Decision acceptance rate is more than double its normal acceptance rate and Amherst’s is triple.


The benefits of applying Early Admission aren’t quite as stark but they’re still noticeable, particularly at schools with rolling admissions.  The University of Michigan has both programs and, while it doesn’t release information on the percentage of its student body admitted early, they do strongly recommend applying early.  At the beginning of the process, U of M is trying to pad their pool for the following year and there are more spots so slightly weaker applicants are accepted.  As they continue through the process, there are both fewer spots and a greater number of applicants, so even highly qualified applicants get rejected. There are no downsides to applying through Early Action so if you’re at all interested in going to U of M, you should apply by the November 1st deadline.  This is the case with most Early Action programs so try to knock those applications out first.


Getting in Early Action can also provide you peace of mind and allow you to recalibrate your college admissions strategy.  For instance, after I was admitted to U of M, I was able to take off many safeties from my college list and focus on writing applications for reaches.  Taking the time to understand Early Action and Early Decision can pay huge dividends and we strongly recommend that every student look into both options.