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The Truth About Applying Early Decision or Early Action

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October is here, and with it comes the countdown to those looming "early" application deadlines. For most schools, early application deadlines fall on Nov. 1 or 15, but some, like the University of Georgia, can be as early as Oct. 15.

So how do you know if applying early is right for you? There are several factors to consider when making the decision to apply early to your top-choice school. It's important to know the benefits and drawbacks.

What's the Difference? Early application policies vary from school and school. Do your research and find out exactly which policy you are agreeing to when applying early, most importantly, is it binding or not. There are four variations:
  • Early Decision (ED): This choice is for students who have identified a college as a definite first choice. Early decision is binding, meaning if you apply to a school ED, you are committing to enrolling upon admission and must withdraw all other applications. Students who apply ED usually get their admissions decision in mid-December. Because it is binding, you can only apply to one school ED.
  • ED I and ED II: Some schools have two ED deadlines, one in November and a second in December, closer to the Regular Decision deadline. ED II is for students who are committed to applying ED to their top-choice school, but aren't necessarily ready for the early November deadline. Again these are binding.
  • Early Action (EA): This is similar to ED except you are not required to attend if admitted, therefore it is nonbinding. You can apply to many schools EA, and will receive your admission decision in December, same as ED.
  • Single-Choice Early Action (SCEA): Also known as restrictive early action, this option is also nonbinding, however you cannot apply other schools EA or ED until you receive your decision from the school to which you applied SCEA. In restrictive early action policies, however, you can still apply to public or state universities EA.
What are the advantages?
  • Better admission rates. When you apply early, you're entering into a smaller applicant pool, albeit just as competitive as the regular decision pool. However, early admit rates still tend to be higher when compared to the regular or overall admission rates for a school. Some can even be two to three times higher. For example, in the 2013 admissions season Middlebury College had a 35.3 percent early admit rate compared to its 17.4 percent regular decision admission rate. At the University of Pennsylvania, 24.9 percent of those who applied early were admitted, compared to the 9.4 percent of applicants who were admitted in the regular round.
  • Knowing your admissions decision sooner. Those who apply early usually get their admissions decisions back by mid-to-late December. Depending on whether you're accepted, denied, or deferred, you can begin to put forth a plan of action. You might want to secure enrollment if you're admitted, finalize other applications for regular admission if you're denied, or write a letter and seek expert guidance on next steps if you're deferred to the regular round.
  • Demonstrating your interest. It's no secret that schools want to admit students who really want to attend. The presence of demonstrated interest, or the school's gauge of how likely you are to attend if admitted, has become more of a consideration in the college admissions process. One way to demonstrate your interest is by applying early. Especially if the school has a binding early admissions policy, applying early is the most effective way to show your commitment to the institution.

Are there drawbacks?
You have to be ready. Applying early isn't just so you can get your applications out-of-the-way; it's for students who have decided on a top choice school and have all their materials ready to go. If you apply early but your junior year grades weren't the best, you could be hurting yourself by not waiting to see if your fall semester grades show improvement. The same applies to standardized test scores. If everything is ready to go but you're waiting on fall ACT or SAT scores, applying before they are available can hurt your chances of admission. As Early Decision options are binding, take the time to do your research, visit and compare. You want to find the best fit for you, not just the best-ranked school.

Is Applying Early Right for You?
First, be sure that the school or schools that you are applying early to are your top-choices. Applying early is a commitment that requires a lot of preparation, so be sure that you are applying to an institution that you really want to attend.

Second, all of your application materials, including test scores and grades, must be ready to go in order to maximize your chances of admission. Again, if you're waiting on final ACT or SAT scores, or if your fall semester grades will give your application a boost, it will be better to apply in the regular round.

Third, make sure you're being strategic! At IvyWise we advise our students to apply in the round that will maximize their chances of acceptance at their top-choice schools. If you think you have a better chance of being admitted EA to two of your top-choices, but also want to wait until your fall semester grades are available to apply to a more competitive school in the regular round, then ago ahead and apply early and keep working on your regular applications.

Deciding where to go to college is a big decision. Early application options are great for students who know where they want to attend and have all their materials ready ahead of deadlines. However, you should not feel pressured to apply early if you don't feel like you're prepared. Take time to think over your application options and make sure you're feeling completely confident before you hit 'submit'!