Early Action and Early Decision Policies for the Top 50

Padya Paramita

Early Action and Early Decision Policies for the Top 50

Whether you have a dream school in mind or you want to get the stressful college application process out of the way as soon as possible, applying early action and early decision are great options for students who feel confident with their application components and are willing to commit to a school. The difference between early action and early decision lies in the nature of the commitment. When you apply early decision, you sign a binding agreement - you’re choosing to commit to the school if you're accepted. Early action on the other hand is nonbinding. If you’re not ready to sign the dotted line during the November deadline, a lot of schools - particularly liberal arts colleges - offer a second early decision round in January.

It’ll probably come as no surprise to you that every school has different policies for early applications. Not all colleges and universities offer early action - some have two early decision options, and some offer no early application route at all. To guide you through the rules at the top schools, I’ve outlined the early action and early decision policies at the top 50 national universities and liberal colleges with their deadlines, as well as the trends across different schools and how much of a difference applying early can make to your college application.

Table Key

 

  • Early action (EA) - Nonbinding admissions process for students to apply to college earlier than the regular deadline, usually in November of senior year. Students receive admissions notifications in December, and if accepted, are not required to commit.
  • Early decision I (ED I) - Binding admissions process for students to apply to college earlier than the regular deadline, usually in November of senior year. Students receive admissions notifications in December, and if accepted, are required to commit.
  • Early decision II (ED II) - Binding admissions process for students to apply to college closer to the regular deadline in January. Students receive admissions notifications in mid-February, and if accepted, are required to commit.
  • Restrictive early action (REA) - REA is process more restrictive than early action but less committal than early decision. Students can apply only to their single-choice EA institution in the early round, with exceptions. Students can’t apply to any ED school, but can apply to other EA schools. 
  • Single-choice early action - Nonbinding process for students to apply to their top institution. Students cannot apply to other schools EA or ED.
  • Regular decision - Vast majority of students apply regular decision, usually in January, and are notified in late March or early April. Students have no obligation to commit if accepted.

    Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the terms, let’s look at the early application policies at the top schools around the country. The table has been updated to reflect changes for the 2020-2021 cycle implemented due to COVID-19.

    Early Action and Early Decision Policies for the Top 50 National Universities

    School Name US News Ranking Early Action/Early Decision Policy
    Princeton University 1 Single-choice early action removed for the 2020-2021 cycle due to COVID-19
    Harvard University 2 Restrictive early action due November 1; Okay to apply to public universities and foreign universities with no binding option at the same time
    Columbia University 3 Early decision due November 1
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology 4 Early action due November 1
    Yale University 4 Single-choice early action due November 1; May apply to other schools with nonbinding rolling admissions programs or apply ED II to colleges if admission notification comes after January 1
    Stanford University 6 Restrictive early action due November 1; Okay to apply early to any public institution, service academy, international institution, college with nonbinding rolling admission, or college with early deadlines for scholarship as long as it is nonbinding
    University of Chicago 6 Early decision due November 1; Early action due November 1; Early decision II due January 2
    University of Pennsylvania 8 Early decision due November 1
    California Institute of Technology 9 Early action due November 1
    Johns Hopkins University 9 Early decision due November 1; early decision II option added due to COVID-19, applications due January 4
    Northwestern University 9 Early decision due November 1
    Duke University 12 Early decision due November 1
    Dartmouth College 13 Early decision due November 1
    Brown University 14 Early decision due November 1
    Vanderbilt University 14 Early decision I due November 1 Early decision II due January 1
    Rice University 16 Early decision due November 1
    Washington University in St. Louis 16 Early decision I due November 1; Early decision II due January 2
    Cornell University 18 Early decision due November 1
    University of Notre Dame 19 Restrictive early action due November 1; Okay to apply to other nonbinding EA programs
    University of California - Los Angeles 20 No early application option; All UC applications are due November 30
    Emory University 21 Early decision I due November 1; Early decision II due January 1
    University of California - Berkeley 22 No early application option; All UC applications are due November 30
    Georgetown University 23 Early action due November 1; Students applying EA are not allowed to apply to any Early Decision program
    University of Michigan -AnnArbor 24 Early action due November 15 (previously Nov. 1)
    University of Southern California 24 No EA or ED option; Regular decision applications due January 15
    Carnegie Mellon University 26 Early decision due November 1; Early admission for high school juniors who have met the course requirements (https://admission.enrollment.cmu.edu/media/W1siZiIsIjIwMTgvMDcvMzAvODViY3Z1d3FkN18yMDE5X0FwcGxpY2F0aW9uX0Jvb2tsZXRfLnBkZiJdXQ/2019_Application_Booklet_.pdf) for each CMU school, due January 1
    University of Virginia 26 Early action due November 1; Early decision due November 1 due to COVID-19 (prev. October 15)
    University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill 28 Early action due October 15
    Wake Forest University 28 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 1
    New York University 30 Early decision I due November 1 Early decision II due January 1
    Tufts University 30 Early decision I due November 1; Early decision II due January 1
    University of California - Santa Barbara 30 No early application option; All UC applications are due November 30
    University of Florida 30 No EA or ED program; Applications due November 1; Applications after November 2 considered on a space-availability basis until March 1
    University of Rochester 34 Early decision due November 1
    Boston College 35 Early decision I due November 1; Early decision II due January 1
    Georgia Institute of Technology 35 New COVID-19 deadlines: EA1 (for in-state) deadline: Oct 15 EA2 (for out-of-state) deadline: Nov 2
    University of California - Irvine 35 No early application option; All UC applications are due November 30
    University of California — San Diego 35 No early application option; All UC applications are due November 30
    University of California - Davis 38 No early application option; All UC applications are due November 30
    William & Mary 39 Early decision I due November 1; Early decision II due January 1
    Tulane University 41 Early action due November 15; Early decision I due November 1; Early decision II due January 7
    Boston University 42 Early decision I due November 1; Early decision II due January 6
    Brandeis University 42 Early decision I due November 1; Early decision II due January 1
    Case Western Reserve University 42 Early action due November 1; Early decision I due November 1; Early decision II due January 15
    University of Texas - Austin 42 No EA or ED program; Applications due December 1
    University of Wisconsin - Madison 42 Early action due November 1
    University of Georgia 47 Early action due October 15
    University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign 47 Early action due November 15 (prev. Nov 1)
    Pepperdine University 49 Early action due November 1
    Lehigh University 49 Early decision 1 due November 1; Early decision II due January 1
    Northeastern University 49 Early decision I due November 1; Early decision II due January 1
    University of Miami 49 Early action due November 1; Early decision I due November 1; Early decision II due January 1

    Listen to Ben Schwartz, a Former Assistant Director of Admissions at Dartmouth College, talk about the different policies and the advantages of applying early in our podcast here:

    Early Action and Early Decision Policies for the Top 50 Liberal Arts Colleges

    School Name US News Ranking Early Action/Early Action Policy
    Williams College 1 Early decision due November 15
    Amherst College 2 Early decision due November 1
    Swarthmore College 3 Early decision due November 15
    Pomona College 4 Early decision I due November 1; Early decision II due January 1
    Wellesley College 4 Early decision I due November 1 Early decision II due January 1
    Bowdoin College 6 Early decision I due November 1 Early decision II due January 1
    Claremont McKenna College 6 Early decision I due November 1; Early decision II due January 5
    United States Naval Academy 6 No ED or EA option; Applications due January 31
    Carleton College 9 Early decision I due November 1 Early decision II due January 15
    Hamilton College 9 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 1
    Middlebury College 9 Early decision I due November 1; Early decision II due January 1
    Washington and Lee University 9 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 15
    Grinnell College 13 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 1
    Vassar College 13 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 1
    Colby College 15 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 1
    Davidson College 15 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 2
    Haverford College 15 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 1
    Smith College 15 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 1
    United States Military Academy (West Point) 15 No ED or EA option; Applications due Feb 28
    Colgate University 20 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 15
    Wesleyan University 20 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 1
    Barnard College 22 Early decision I due November 1
    Bates College 22 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 1
    University of Richmond 22 Early action due November 1 Early decision due November 1
    Colorado College 25 Early action due November 10; Early decision due November 10; Early decision II due January 15
    Harvey Mudd College 25 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 5
    Macalester College 27 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 1
    Bryn Mawr College 28 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 1
    Kenyon College 28 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 15
    Scripps College 28 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 3
    Soka University of America 28 Early action due November 1
    United States Air Force Academy 28 No ED or EA option; Applications due December 31
    Berea College 33 Rolling admissions; Students are strongly encouraged to apply early and meet priority deadlines: October 31 (Priority #1), February 28 (Priority #2), and April 30 (Final Deadline)
    Bucknell University 34 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 15
    Mount Holyoke College 34 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 1
    College of the Holy Cross 36 Rolling early decision open August 1, I due December 15
    Oberlin College 36 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 2
    Pitzer College 36 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 1
    Skidmore College 36 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 15
    Lafayette College 40 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 15
    Occidental College 40 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 1
    Thomas Aquinas College 40 No ED or EA option; Rolling admissions open for any student who has completed junior year, students accepted on a space-availability basis
    Franklin and Marshall College 43 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 15
    Denison University 44 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 15
    Trinity College 44 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 1
    Union College 44 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 15
    DePauw University 47 Early decision due November 1
    Dickinson College 47 Early decision 1 due November 15; Early decision 2 due January 15
    Sewanee - University of the South 47 Early decision I due November 15; Early action due December 1; Early decision II due January 15
    Whitman College 47 Early decision I due November 15; Early decision II due January 1

    Trends Across Schools

    Most of the schools on the two lists offer early action and early decision programs. The University of California schools do not have early admission rounds, but their regular applications are due on November 30, which is earlier than regular decision dates for most schools. Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and Stanford offer restrictive early action, which despite being nonbinding, does not allow students to apply to other schools early - with a few exceptions.

    Another notable trend lies in the fact that early action applies mostly in the case of national universities, while early decision II is offered mostly by liberal arts colleges. Wash U, Boston College, Boston University, Emory, Brandeis, Case Western, RPI and Northeastern are the top national universities which offer ED II. Sewanee, Centre, Colorado, Soka and the University of Richmond are liberal arts colleges with early action options. This statistic makes sense since national universities are larger and receive a lot more applications. Because liberal arts schools have fewer spots, they are more interested in students who are 100% willing to commit, and thus offer two different options for binding early decision.

    Advantages of Applying Early Admission and Early Decision

    Since you’ll be going up against a smaller application pool no matter which school you apply to in the early round, you have a greater chance of admission into a college, even just statistically speaking. Of course, you need to have excellent grades, test scores, extracurriculars, and essays to compete against the best students across the country. But historically, the acceptance rates at top schools have been significantly higher in the early round than the regular, as shown by the table for Ivy League colleges below:

    School Name ED/EA Acceptance Rate RD Acceptance Rate
    Princeton Unviersity 13.9% 5.8%
    Harvard University 13.4% 4.5%
    Columbia University 14.6% 5.1%
    Yale University 13.2% 5.9%
    University of Pennsylvania 17.9% 7.4%
    Dartmouth College 23.2% 7.9%
    Brown University 18.2% 6.6%
    Cornell University 22.7% 10.6%

    Schools use early action and early decision admission numbers as ways of estimating the yield of incoming classes. Since colleges know students applying early are likely or formally bound to commit, early applicants are more likely to get accepted. The early action and early decision rates are inflated by legacy students and recruited athletes. Keep in mind that the recruitment process for athletes is an entirely different one, as they are usually in touch with coaches who then relay the information to admissions officers.

    It’s clear that schools are able to admit a greater percentage of students who apply in this round. But, you shouldn’t just send a half-polished application for hopes of an admissions boost. Most students who apply early typically have their act together. You will be competing against students confident in their grades, scores and extracurriculars. If you submit a mediocre application, chances are you will not fare very well. If you apply EA, and you’re a mediocre applicant, colleges won’t accept you knowing that you’re a mediocre applicant and that they can’t count on you for yield. Sometimes for ED, even it’s not in the best state, students rush to finish their application to their dream school to increase their chances and hoping for a miracle. This strategy isn’t a sound one.

    But, if you think your profile is solid, your application is ready to be sent, and you are 100% sure what your top choice is, why not apply ED? If there’s a liberal arts college you really want to go to but your application is not up to the mark in November, you can always apply ED II.

    Applying early action and early decision to college not only increases your chances of acceptance, but if you’re accepted, you don’t have to submit regular decision applications! Of course, you should continue working on RD applications until you hear back to prepare for all outcomes. But once you’ve been notified, you’ll have a giant responsibility lifted off your shoulders. Plus, you’ll be able to save time and money.

    Disadvantages of Applying Early

    Applying early decision isn’t an ideal option for everyone - it has its downsides. Since it’s binding, once you’re accepted, you won’t be able to explore other options or know whether other schools might make better financial aid offers. If you’re not 100% ready to commit both mentally and financially, don’t take the plunge! Moreover, you’ll need to have everything in order and ready to go 2 months earlier. If stronger second quarter grades could benefit your profile or you’re waiting to achieve something major before January, hold back on early decision.

    Although early action may seem more beneficial and appealing with not fully committing, EA has its own disadvantages. For example, if you’re applying to a school which has both ED and EA, such as Colorado College or the University of Richmond, admissions officers are more likely to consider you more seriously if you apply ED. You might apply EA to keep your options open, which they could see as a sign of a student who’s not likely to commit if they are accepted.

    The idea of choosing a single college when there are so many options to explore can seem scary. But, with thorough research and an examination of majors and departments, student groups, and facilities offered by a campus, you might find a school that is the perfect fit for you early in your college search. If that’s the case, why wait until the regular decision? Look at the early action and early decision requirements and deadlines of your choice and start preparing now. If you get college applications out of the way early, you can have a stress free last semester of high school, and that is a win.

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