Pros and Cons of Applying Early Decision and Early Action
June 1, 2021
Pros and Cons of Applying Early Decision and Early Action
Whether you’ve got 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 are accepted. Early action on the other hand is non-binding. 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. There are both pros and cons of applying early decision and early action.
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. It will take some brainstorming and perhaps the drawing of a list of the pros and cons of applying early decision to go over all of the ways this route can benefit you. To help guide you through the different possibilities, I’ve explained the different application routes you can take and outlined the pros and cons of applying early decision or early action to a top college.
Different Application Rounds
Before we can dive into the pros and cons of applying early decision or early action, you should know the difference between the various application routes that you can take when applying to college.
- 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. Example schools: University of Chicago, University of Michigan, University of Virginia.
- 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. Example schools: Columbia University, Cornell University, Williams College.
- 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. Example schools: University of Chicago, Wellesley College, Colby College.
- Restrictive early action (REA) or single-choice early action - Different schools refer to this policy in different ways. REA/single-choice early action is a 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 such as nonbinding applications to public or foreign universities. Students apply in November and are notified in December with no obligation to commit if accepted. Example schools: Harvard University, Yale University, Stanford University.
- 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. Every college has a regular decision round. The University of California colleges are a good example of schools with only one round, the regular round.
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the different application options, let’s dive deeper into the pros and cons of applying early decision and early action to college.
Smaller Pool, Greater Chances
When thinking about the pros and cons of applying early decision or early action, it’s good to start with the numbers. 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 for some top schools below:
|School Name||ED/EA Acceptance Rate||RD Acceptance Rate|
|University of Pennsylvania||15%||5.7%|
|Johns Hopkins University||19%||7.4%|
As you can see, the numbers are far less brutal on the left hand column. Schools also use early action and early decision 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. 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 Great For Students Who Are Confident About Their Chances
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 they can’t count on you for yield. Sometimes for ED, even if 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.
You’re Done Earlier
Another advantage when it comes to the pros and cons of applying early decision and early action is that applying early 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.
Cons of Applying Early
ED is a Binding Commitment
Applying early, particularly 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!
You’ll Need to Have Your Application Ready Earlier
As you weigh the pros and cons of applying early decision and early action, remember, 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.
Some Schools Have Both—And One Is Seen More Favorably
Although early action may seem more beneficial one appealing with not fully committing, EA has its disadvantages. For example, if you’re applying to a school that has both ED and EA, such as University of Chicago, 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? Weigh the pros and cons of applying early decision and early action, think about 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.