Early Action vs. Early Decision

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As you enter the college admissions process, you will often hear the phrases “Early Action” and “Early Decision” tossed around. What is the difference between these two forms of applications?

Actually, there are four distinct types of admissions cycles that colleges may offer outside of standard “Regular Admissions”: Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, Early Decision, and Early Decision II. Having a deep understanding of each of these categories will allow you to make the best decision about how to play your college admissions cards in the fall of your senior year.

While the data varies on whether or not applying early helps one’s chances of admission, the reduced stress associated with having a game plan earlier on is definitely a plus. And, of course, students who have a better idea of where they will be going to school the following year can focus more on securing the appropriate finances, such as scholarships and financial aid.

Early Action:

With Early Action, students can simply apply earlier than the deadline for regular admissions and receive their decisions earlier. If a student is accepted Early Action, the result is non-binding. He or she may apply to an unlimited number of schools in the Regular Admissions cycle.

Students may apply Early Action to an unlimited number of schools.

Some schools with Early Action: University of Michigan, University of Virginia, Boston College, MIT, UNC Chapel Hill, Villanova University, Temple University

Restrictive Early Action:

The only difference between Early Action and Restrictive Early Action (REA) is the number of schools that students are allowed to apply to. Colleges offering Restrictive Early Action ask that students who apply to them through this cycle do not apply early to any other schools.

However, the decision is non-binding. Students may apply to an unlimited number of schools only in the regular admissions cycle if they are offered admission via Restrictive Early Action.

There are a small number of schools that offer Restrictive Early Action: Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, and Georgetown. If a student is serious about attending one of these colleges as their first choice, applying Restrictive Early Action is a good way to demonstrate interest.

Early Decision:

Students may apply to only one school Early Decision (ED1). If they are offered admission to that school, the result is binding and the student must attend that university. Early Decision is a good choice for students who have a solid first choice college, particularly if that college is a reach or particularly difficult to get into.

While students may only apply to one school Early Decision, they may simultaneously apply to an unlimited number of schools Early Action. However, should they be offered admission to their Early Decision school, they must withdraw their submitted Early Action applications or offers of admission.

Some schools with Early Decision: University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, Northwestern University, Trinity College, Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, Amherst College, Carnegie Mellon, William and Mary

Early Decision II:

Early Decision II (ED2) is an option offered by some Early Decision schools. It is essentially a second round of Early Decision applications and decisions that falls between the Early Decision and Regular Admission cycles. The parameters of the rules for Early Decision II are identical for Early Decision I. This is a good option for students who did not get into their first choice Early Decision I school or who were not able to select a first choice by the ED1 deadline.

Some schools with Early Decision II: Vanderbilt University, Northeastern University, American University, Bucknell University, Boston University, Connecticut College, George Washington University, Kenyon College, New York University, Skidmore College, Tufts University, University of Chicago