Early Action vs. Early Decision

Learn the Important Differences between Early Action and Early Decision

Early Action and Decision Deadlines are Often in Early November
Early Action and Decision Deadlines are Often in Early November. John Scrivener / Getty Images

Applying to college early has many advantages, but it's important to recognize the significant differences between Early Action and Early Decision admission options. Both have advantages for applicants, but they aren't right for everyone.

Early Action vs. Early Decision

  • Both programs have the advantage of receiving an admissions decision early, often in December.
  • Early Decision is binding whereas Early Action is not. Students are committed to attend if admitted through Early Decision.
  • Because Early Decision is a big commitment, it often improves chances of acceptance more than Early Action.

If you're thinking of applying to college through an Early Action or Early Decision application option, make sure you understand the implications and requirements for each type of program.

The Differences Between Early Action and Early Decision

These are the main features that distinguish Early Action from Early Decision:

  • Early Action is not restrictive. Applicants can apply to more than one college through an Early Action program (but note that this isn't true for Single-Choice Early Action). Students can apply to only one college through Early Decision. For both options, you can apply to other colleges through regular admission.
  • Early Action is not binding. If accepted, there is no requirement to attend, and there is no penalty if you choose to go to a different college. Also, even after being accepted, you can apply to other colleges. With Early Decision, you are required to attend if admitted. If you break your contract and decide to not attend, you may have offers of admission rescinded. You need to withdraw all other college applications if you're accepted.
  • Students accepted through Early Action have until the regular decision day (usually May 1st) to decide whether or not they want to attend. With Early Decision, you'll need to send a deposit and confirm your plans to attend early, sometimes before you even receive a financial aid package.

As you can see, Early Action is a much more attractive option than Early Decision for many reasons. It is far more flexible and does't force you to restrict your college options.

Advantages of Both Early Action and Early Decision

Despite some of the disadvantages, Early Decision does have many benefits that it shares with Early Action:

  • Both Early Decision and Early Action tend to have significantly higher acceptance rates than you'll find for students who apply with the regular applicant pool. This is particularly true for Early Decision since the program attracts students who are most committed to the school.
  • With both programs, you can wrap up your college search early, often in December. This can make the second half of senior year much more enjoyable. You can focus on high school while your classmates are stressing out about their college acceptances.
  • Both admission options work well to demonstrate your interest in a college. Demonstrated interest is an important but often overlooked factor in the admissions process. Colleges want to admit students who will accept an offer of admission. Students who apply early are showing their eagerness to attend. That said, Early Decision is a much stronger indicated of demonstrated interest than Early Action.

A Final Word

In general, Early Action is always a good option. As long as you can have your application ready by the early deadline (often early November), you have nothing to lose by applying Early Action. With Early Decision, make sure you are absolutely certain that the college or university is your first choice. You are committing yourself to the school, so if you are unsure of your selection, don't apply Early Decision. If you are sure, you should definitely apply Early Decision—acceptance rates can be three times higher than you'll find with the regular application option.