11/04/2011 11:00 am ET | Updated Jan 04, 2012

Early Decision: To Apply Or Not Apply?

Senior year is thought of as the best year of high school; however, with all of the fun comes a great deal of stress. The first few months of senior year are especially stressful if you're applying early to college: the deadline for some colleges, November 1, is already upon us! While applying early has its perks, some people apply early for the wrong reason. So how do you know if you should apply early? We can’t make the decision for you, but we can show you the pros and cons of applying early. Read on to learn about key things to think about before submitting your application.

Early Action vs. Early Decision

First of all, you need to know what you're getting yourself into before you apply early. Although they sound similar, early action and early decision are very different. Colleges usually have one or the other so find out more about the school you're interested in by talking to a college advisor or checking out their website.

Early Action

With early action, you find out if you're accepted in mid-December, which is earlier than regular decision. Applying early action isn't binding, which means that you don't have to attend that school if you're accepted. You can apply to multiple colleges with early action and you don't have to make a final decision until May 1!

Early Decision

Early decision is much more serious than early action: it's a binding agreement. You can only apply early decision to one school, so choose wisely! Like early action, you find out if you're accepted in mid-December. If you are accepted to that school, withdraw all of your other applications and buy a bumper sticker for your car because that’s where you're going! The early decision agreement is not usually binding if you are deferred (you haven't been rejected, but your application will be reviewed along with the regular decision applications), which means that your application will be reviewed again with the regular applications and you will know if you're accepted in April. Before you apply early decision, double check the school's deferral policies.

Why Do People Apply Early?

While most people apply early to college because they truly love the school, some people apply early because they want to get done with the process sooner. When Jamie, a junior at George Washington University, began the application process, she did not want to wait months to find out where she'd attend school. “I decided to apply early originally because I wanted to know where I would be going,” says Jamie. “I hate waiting.” Although she fell in love with GWU, you shouldn’t apply early decision unless you're 100 percent sure that the college is your first choice.

“A student should only apply early decision if they are sure that the college or university is their first choice and they are confident that they will thrive there,” says Susan Tewksbury, a guidance counselor at John Jay High School. “They should not select this application deadline as a way to shorten the application process.”

Applying Early: Yay or Nay?

Although everyone's experience with applying early is different, hearing collegiettes' experiences is a great way to learn about things college pamphlets won't tell you. Also, it may help you weigh the pros and cons of applying early.


It's a weight lifted off of your shoulders!

One of the best things about applying early is that a weight is lifted off of your shoulders if you're accepted. “Applying early decision was the best decision I made in the entire college process,” says Jamie. “ It took a lot of pressure off of me during my senior year. Since I found out in December, I was able to relax for the second semester and not worry as much.” While your friends will be stressed out during your second semester, you can relax!

Early Decision has its perks!

Sometimes, applying early can even benefit you once you're there. At Boston University, incoming freshmen who applied early decision get priority for housing over the other freshmen. Obviously, this shouldn't be a deciding factor; however, it's a nice perk!

It's a great way to show your dedication to the school.

Applying early to a school you love can be a good thing if your grades don't fully meet the university's standards. “If I hadn't applied early, there's a good chance I wouldn't have gotten into Tufts; my grades were borderline good,” says Catherine, a sophomore at Tufts University. “Tufts especially loves their ED kids; it just show that extra level of dedication that the university looks for.”


The pressure is on!

Applying to college is a stressful process and applying early adds additional time pressure to it. Most collegiettes who apply early will agree! “There was a lot of pressure to make the decision and get the application in on time,” says Jamie. Of course, good time management skills can lower this stress.

Your major may change.

It's important to find a school that has great programs for your major. When Catherine applied early decision to Tufts, she didn't realize that she wanted a career in sports medicine. Unfortunately, Tufts doesn’t have a sports medicine program. “If I had known what I wanted more solidly before coming to school, I definitely wouldn't be at Tufts,” says Catherine. “But now that I'm here, I love it too much to transfer. Since Tufts doesn't specifically have a program for what I'm interested in, I just have to take the initiative to find opportunities, jobs, and internships that will prepare me for my future graduate program.” Applying early leaves you even less time to figure out what you're interested in before deciding where to submit an application.

You may change your mind.

One problem with applying early to a school is that things can change: you many want a city school in the beginning of senior year and end up craving a school with more of a campus come second semester. Sarah, a sophomore at Kenyon College, originally applied early action to Georgetown; however, she decided to go to Kenyon last minute. “I chose Kenyon because it was the right fit for me,” says Sarah. “I'd like to live in a city in the future, quite possibly D.C., but I figured I'd never again get an experience quite like the small, rural liberal arts school that Kenyon offers. The difference in size played a large role in determining my choice; I thought I'd be more comfortable at a smaller school. Kenyon has about a quarter of the undergraduates Georgetown has.” While you are allowed to change your mind when applying early action, that's not the case for early decision.