Early Admissions Path May Increase Acceptance

Early action vs decision

Many colleges are seeing record-number, double-digit increases in Early Decision and Early Action applicants. Is early admissions right for you?

Early Admissions: "Students can turn in college applications before the regular deadlines."

For students who want to get a leg up on their college applications, there are Early Action and Early Decision admissions periods, where students can turn in college applications before the regular deadlines that are typically in the spring.

According to Niche data, based on roughly 200,000 applications from 125,000 college students, students’ chances of getting accepted to a school are 18 percent better if they apply through Early Action or Early Decision than through Regular Decision.

Regular Decision
Early Decision
Early Action
**Note: These are aggregates across all schools. Acceptance rates at particular colleges will vary and may be dramatically different than the national average.

According to a Niche user poll, 46 percent of students believe that applying early will help their chances of getting accepted. Yet, despite the belief that early admissions helps secure an enrollment spot, 54 percent of students surveyed are still applying through Regular Decision or Rolling Admission. In order to alleviate any confusion, here are the main differences between the Early Action schools and Early Decision schools, and their processes.

What is Early Action?

Twenty percent of Niche users have applied or plan to apply to college through Early Action.

Early Admissions: "Early Action is not binding, meaning you don't have to commit."

With Early Action, prospective students can apply earlier to a school, typically in the late fall or early winter, and find out whether they have been admitted sooner. The student can either commit to the school after being admitted or wait until the spring to make a decision, as Early Action is not binding. Forty-two percent of Niche users believe the most beneficial aspect of Early Action is its time management flexibility because it allows more time to explore application and financial aid options.

Benefits of Early Action
Consequences of Early Action
Non-bindingCan prevent exploration of all financial aid options
Higher acceptance rates for those that apply earlyEncourages laziness in senior year of high school due to early acceptance
Commit right away or wait until springNot ideal for students who hope to bring their senior year high school grades up for college applications
Best for time management
Good route to go for a dream school/group of dream schools
Can usually apply to multiple schools

What is Restricted Early Action?

Single-Choice Early Action or Restricted Early Action (REA) plans restrict students to applying to only one college, kind of like a hybrid of Early Action and Early Decision. Prospective students can still apply to other schools via regular admission, and if they are accepted to their REA school, they don’t have to commit; however, they can only apply to one school through REA, as opposed to applying to a variety of schools through regular Early Action.

What is Early Decision?

Early Admissions: "Early Decision is binding, meaning you have to commit."

While it offers the same kind of deal as Early Action, with early admittance and notification, Early Decision is binding, meaning that students must attend that particular school if they are admitted. If they apply  and get admitted but want to attend a different school, they will have to pay a fee or face other consequences for breaking the Early Decision agreement. When students are accepted through Early Decision, they are obligated to withdraw all other college applications.

Benefits of Early Decision
Consequences of Early Decision
Best route to go for a dream schoolCan only apply to one college
Best for time management---more time to enjoy senior year of high school, get head start on college, come up with a new plan, etc.Binding, meaning students HAVE to attend if accepted
Better chance of being acceptedA fee if you try to get out of it
Head start connecting with future collegiate peersOften only one financial aid offer
“Advantage the advantaged”---wealthier students more likely to benefit because of more expensive financial aid packages

You may notice that sometimes schools have two dates for Early Decision deadlines and notifications. The second set of dates is for Early Decision II, which is just a second admissions window that works the same as Early Decision I, just on a different time frame or schedule.

Can you ever get out of Early Decision penalty fees?

Some students have avoided an Early Decision commitment based on financial reasons. For example, some ED contracts require the admitted student to enroll only if they are offered an adequate financial aid package. If students aren’t offered a sufficient amount, they may be able to get out of attending the ED school. Sometimes calling the admissions office at the school and explaining your situation may also help in getting out of a commitment.

Early Admissions: "Best advice: Don't apply to an Early Decision school carelessly."

On the other hand, if you do manage to get out of the ED contract, whether for financial or other reasons, the ED school may tell the other school about your situation, resulting in no college acceptance offers, so tread lightly. The best rule of advice: Don’t apply to an ED school carelessly. Take careful consideration, and read the ED rules before proceeding.

The Bottom Line

A good way to remember the difference between EA and ED: Early Action is being proactive with your college admissions; Early Decision requires an actual decision.

Unlike its Early Decision counterpart, Early Action offers a little more flexibility in terms of what students can do when it comes to the college application process, but both options can give students an advantage in college admissions. Every school has different Early Action and Early Decision time periods and regulations, so it’s best to thoroughly read through a prospective school’s EA and ED rules before applying.