I don’t understand what “Early Action” means

Saturday night, I hosted an application workshop for some local seniors (including my son). It was incredibly inciteful to hear their questions and concerns. One question that came up a lot that, and in multiple follow up email since, is “what is Early Action” and “Should I apply Early Action?”. Early Action is called an application plan. Most schools have one of four–Rolling Admissions, Regular Admissions, Early Action and Early Decision. But to make it more complicated, they have different version of these and sub- categories. Here is an overview of each.

Rolling Admissions–Schools who use rolling admissions don’t have a formal deadline. You can apply any time until their application closes (usually late spring or summer before classes start). You will receive your application decision a few weeks after your application is complete. You typically have until around May to decide if you are attending.

Regular Decision-Applying Regular Decision means you are meeting the school’s deadline, typically in late fall or spring. You must have all of your application materials in to the Office of Admission by the deadline date. They will then send you a decision by their published response date. There are usually not any incentives for applying by this deadline (extra scholarships, housing incentives) and it is not binding (if you are admitted, you are not obligated to attend). You typically have by a certain date (around May 1) to respond to accept or decline the offer.

Early Decision– Not every school offers Early Decision. It is a program where you submit your application early and commit to attend if admitted. It is called “binding” as you, your parents and your high school counselor all sign a document (a section in the common application) that you agree to attend if admitted. You should only apply Early Decision if you intend to enroll. Complete the Net Price Calculator on a school website to see what aid you might receive (and take a screen shot). You may be able to back out if your financial aid will not make it affordable, but it can hurt future applicants from your high school. Many schools use Early Decision to admit a large portion of their class and lock them in to attending–if you have a top choice, and can afford to attend it no matter your aid, Early Decision can be a strategy to help secure your admission to that school (although admission is never a guarantee as applicant pools continue to get larger and stronger each year). You can only apply to one school Early Decision (you can submit others regular decision or early action). If admitted, you must withdraw any application you have submitted to other schools.

Some schools offer two rounds of Early Decision called Early Decision I and Early Decision II. If you are not admitted to a school Early Decision I or if you did not apply under Early Decision I, you can submit an application Early Decision II. The same Early Decision rules apply.

Early Action– Early Action is not binding. You still are applying by an earlier date. You can apply to multiple schools Early Action. If admitted, you are not obligated to attend. It is not binding. Sometimes, scholarships are tied to applying Early Action, and you also receive your decision earlier.

Some schools have Restrictive Early Action, which is basically like Early Decision. You can only apply to one private school via Restrictive Early Action. You can still apply to public colleges. Restrictive Early Action is not binding but you are telling the college they are your first choice.

If your materials will be ready–you aren’t retaking the SAT or ACT and your essays will not be rushed–applying early can be advantageous. However, the best strategy is to apply when you can put forth the strongest application.

If you need help deciding which application program to use or compiling any aspect of your application, Coffman Consulting can help. Schedule a free consultation to learn about our services here.

Published by Kate Coffman

Kate has worked in admissions, financial aid, college and career readiness for over twenty years. She most recently served as the Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Franklin College. Kate has also worked in admissions at Butler University and Indiana University. Kate has presented at numerous schools and conferences helping families, educators and those who work with youth understand how to be college and career ready, how to apply to college and how to afford their education.

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