by Scott Anderson
Early decision (ED) and early action (EA) plans can be beneficial to students — but only to those who have thought through their college options carefully and have a clear preference for one institution.
Early decision versus early action
Early decision plans are binding — a student who is accepted as an ED applicant must attend the college. Early action plans are nonbinding — students receive an early response to their application but do not have to commit to the college until the normal reply date of May 1. Counselors need to make sure that students understand this key distinction between the two plans.
Approximately 450 colleges have early decision or early action plans, and some have both. Some colleges offer a nonbinding option called single-choice early action, under which applicants may not apply ED or EA to any other college.
ED plans have come under fire as unfair to students from families with low incomes, since they do not have the opportunity to compare financial aid offers. This may give an unfair advantage to applicants from families who have more financial resources.
- Apply early (usually in November) to the first-choice college.
- Receive an admission decision from the college well in advance of the usual notification date (usually by December).
- Agree to attend the college if accepted and offered a financial aid package that is considered adequate by the family.
- Apply to only one college early decision.
- Apply to other colleges under regular admission plans.
- Withdraw all other applications if accepted by ED.
- Send a non-refundable deposit well in advance of May 1.
- Apply early.
- Receive an admission decision early in the admission cycle (usually in January or February).
- Consider acceptance offer; do not have to commit upon receipt.
- Apply to other colleges under regular admission plans.
- Give the college a decision no later than the May 1 national response date.
Who should apply early?
Applying to an ED or EA plan is most appropriate for a student who:
- Has researched colleges extensively.
- Is absolutely sure that the college is the first choice.
- Has found a college that is a strong match academically, socially and geographically.
- Meets or exceeds the admission profile for the college for SAT® scores, GPA and class rank.
- Has an academic record that has been consistently solid over time.
Applying to an ED or EA plan is not appropriate for a student who:
- Has not thoroughly researched colleges.
- Is applying early just to avoid stress and paperwork.
- Is not fully committed to attending the college.
- Is applying early only because friends are.
- Needs a strong senior fall semester to bring grades up.
Encourage students who want to apply early to fill out NACAC’s Early Decision Self-Evaluation Questionnaire, in the Deciding About Early Decision and Early Action handout. You may want to share this with parents as well.
The benefits of applying early
For a student who has a definite first-choice college, applying early has many benefits besides possibly increasing the chance of getting in. Applying early lets the student:
- Reduce stress by cutting the time spent waiting for a decision.
- Save the time and expense of submitting multiple applications.
- Gain more time, once accepted, to look for housing and otherwise prepare for college.
- Reassess options and apply elsewhere if not accepted.
The drawbacks of applying early
Pressure to decide: Committing to one college puts pressure on students to make serious decisions before they’ve explored all their options.
Reduced financial aid opportunities: Students who apply under ED plans receive offers of admission and financial aid simultaneously and so will not be able to compare financial aid offers from other colleges. For students who absolutely need financial aid, applying early may be a risky option.
Time crunch for other applications: Most colleges do not notify ED and EA applicants of admission until December 15. Because of the usual deadlines for applications, this means that if a student is rejected by the ED college, there are only two weeks left to send in other applications. Encourage those of your students who are applying early to prepare other applications as they wait to receive admission decisions from their first-choice college.
Senioritis: Applicants who learn early that they have been accepted into a college may feel that, their goal accomplished, they have no reason to work hard for the rest of the year. Early-applying students should know that colleges may rescind offers of admission should their senior-year grades drop.
Students and parents can use our Pros and Cons of Applying to College Early, in the Deciding About Early Decision and Early Action handout, to weigh their options.
Does applying early increase the chance of acceptance?
Many students believe applying early means competing with fewer applicants and increasing their chances for acceptance. This is not always true. Colleges vary in the proportion of the class admitted early and in the percentage of early applicants they admit.
Higher admission rates for ED applicants may correlate to stronger profiles among candidates choosing ED. Students should ask the admission office whether their institution’s admission standards differ between ED and regular applicants, and then assess whether applying early makes sense given their own profile.
The ethics of applying early decision
The Common Application and some colleges’ application forms require the student applying under early decision, as well as the parent and counselor, to sign an ED agreement form spelling out the plan’s conditions.
Make it clear in your school handbook and at college planning events that your policy for early-decision applications is to send the student’s final transcript to one college only: anything else is unethical.
Keep in mind
- ED and EA program specifics vary, so students should get information as soon as possible directly from the admission staff at their first-choice college.
- ED and EA applicants must take the October SAT or SAT Subject Tests™ in order for these scores to make it to the college in time.
Formal arrangements between two or more colleges and universities that specify how courses, a general education plan, and/or major requirements transfer from one institution of higher education to another. Articulation agreements are crucial for transfer students who need to understand how their credits will translate to other institutions.
An optional component of the admission process where the student schedules a visit with an admission officer.
An opportunity to observe campus culture, talk to current students, and visit the surrounding community.
A measure used to show how a student’s academic performance compares to that of their peers within the same high school class.
The Coalition Application
A college application accepted by more than 140 colleges and universities. The application platform also offers a set of free online college planning tools that help students learn about and prepare for college.
A common component of the admission process that allows students to showcase their individuality.
A convenient way for students to meet representatives from many colleges and universities under one roof.
A college application accepted by more than 800 colleges and universities.
An offer of admission contingent upon certain conditions, such as a mandated grade point average.
A response to early applications wherein the student is not admitted but retains eligibility in the regular admission pool.
A decision made by the student to postpone their admission to college sometimes used to take a gap year.
Various ways in which a student shows their interest in attending a specific institution prior to the official application process. Measures of demonstrated interest vary from college to college but can include taking a campus tour, contacting the admission office, registering for an overnight program on campus, and more.
Students apply by an earlier deadline to receive a decision in advance of the college’s Regular Decision notification date. Students will not be asked to accept the college’s offer of admission or to submit a deposit prior to May 1.
Students commit to a first-choice college and, if admitted, agree to enroll and withdraw their other college applications. Colleges may offer ED I or II with different deadlines. This is the only application plan where students are required to accept a college’s offer of admission and submit a deposit prior to May 1.
Federal Application for Federal Student Aid
Required application for anyone filing for federal financial aid, including all federal loans.
Monetary assistance applied toward postsecondary education, which can consist of gift-aid, work-study, or loans.
College applicants who are the first in their families to apply and attend a postsecondary institution.
A student’s decision to postpone their acceptance to college, usually during the year between senior year of high school and freshman year of college.
Grade Point Average
A component on high school transcripts that averages all of a student’s grades, typically on a 4.0 scale. Some schools give more weight to grades earned through higher-level coursework.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)
Postsecondary institutions established prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for the purposes of educating African-American students.
A student applicant with familial ties to the college or university to which they are applying.
Letter of Recommendation
Non-familial references submitted by students during the admission process.
A policy of colleges and universities to extend admission offers regardless of a student’s financial status.
Non-selective admission policy.
A test given to students before they enroll in college, and usually after they are accepted, to align their educational needs with the appropriate coursework.
An academic institution financed primarily by tuition and endowments.
An academic institution financed by tuition, endowments, and state or local taxes. Tuition for in-state students is reduced and programs and policies are state-regulated.
A decision offered during the regular admission cycle. Students submit their applications by a specified deadline and are notified of a decision within a clearly stated period of time.
Restrictive Early Action
Students apply to an institution of preference and receive a decision early. They may be restricted from applying ED, EA, or REA to other institutions. If offered enrollment, they have until May 1 to confirm.
The percentage of first-year students who continue at that college or university for a second year of studies.
Students apply at any time after a college begins accepting applications until a final closing date, which may be as late as the start of the term for which they are applying. Students are notified of a decision as their applications are completed and are reviewed.
Institutional statistic that compares the number of students who apply to those who are accepted.
A national college admission exam with subject areas in English, math, reading, and science with an optional writing component. The ACT and SAT are the two most popular versions in the US.
A trend describing students who apply and are accepted to college, but ultimately do not attend.
A student’s academic history, usually curated by a high school counseling department, submitted as part of the college application.
A college application accepted by 16 colleges and universities. The application platform also offers a set of free online college planning tools that help students learn about and prepare for college.
Waitlists give students who were not initially admitted another opportunity to be considered for admission, and they help colleges manage their enrollments. By placing a student on the waitlist, a college does not initially offer or deny admission but extends to the candidate the possibility of admission no later than Aug. 1 should space become available.
Questions? Let’s chat!
Weil College Advising, LLC
- Confirm that your courses will put you on the right track for college admission (talk to your counselor!)
- make a plan to take and study for the ACT and SAT.
- Start developing a résumé—a record of your accomplishments, activities, and work experience.
- If you haven’t participated in many activities outside of class, now is the time to sign up. Consider clubs at school, team sports, leadership roles, or involvement in a religious or civic community group.
- Take the PSAT. Taking the test as a junior will qualify you for some scholarship consideration and identify you to colleges as a potential applicant.
- Work with your counselor to set your senior schedule. Enroll in the most challenging courses.
- Register for a spring SAT and/or ACT.
- Explore summer opportunities on college campuses—a great way to find out what college life is all about.
- Start researching colleges and universities. Go to college fairs and open houses. Learn as much as you can about colleges online.
- Begin planning college visits. Try to visit colleges near you over spring break. Include a large, medium size, and small campus.
- Develop a preliminary list of colleges that interest you. Go online to request additional information. Make sure your list is balanced among reach-target and likely schools
- Take a look at some college applications. Make note of all the pieces of information you will need to compile. Make a list of teachers, counselors, employers, and other adults who could write letters of recommendation.
- Consider lining up a summer job or internship.
- Continue investigating colleges.
- Schedule campus visits at the schools that interest you.
- Begin thinking about your applications. Generally, colleges will have their applications online by the beginning of August.
- Start brainstorming your college essay!
Questions? Let’s chat!
Weil College Afvising, LLC
Consider this advice for first-timers:
(Even great students occasionally need a nudge)
- Sit down and discuss college plans together
- Research different types of colleges and universities
- Talk to currents students from colleges of interest
- Explore websites of colleges of interest
- Plan to visit multiple campuses
Points to Consider:
Size and Location: How many undergraduates? Urban, suburban, or rural? Close to a big city?
Type of School: Public or private? Major research university? Religiously affiliated? Liberal arts college?
Academic Programs: Does this school offer a major that I am interested in? Do I apply directly into a major, program, college or school?
Faculty: What is the student-to-faculty ratio? Average class size? Are faculty accessible outside of class?
Research: What opportunities are there to participate in research? (is that important to me?)
Student life: What kind of clubs are available? What traditions and activities are most important to the student body?
Housing and Dining: How are the dining halls? Is housing in dorms guaranteed or required? What living arrangements are available?
Career Outcomes: How does this school prepare me to achieve my professional goals? Is there an internship program?
Questions? Let’s chat!
Weil College Advising, LLC
By Dr. Gina La Monica
As the class of 2021 gets ready to embark on their college adventure, the class of 2022 begins to prepare for their college admissions journey. Based on this year’s college acceptance trends, what factors will be important for the next cohort of graduates? How can you increase your chances of being accepted to the college of your dreams? I have been reading many articles and books on college admissions with the advent of COVID, which changed how admissions folks evaluate a student’s college admissions application. As a result, college admissions staff have a new process of evaluating applications with a revised rubric. The New York Times bestselling author Jeffrey Selingo summarizes many important tips to success in the revamped college admissions process in his book “Who Gets In And Why” detailed below.
As I stated in previous articles, many colleges have gone test-optional or test blind for the next couple of years. Take advantage of this situation by taking the entrance exams (SAT/ACT) but do not report your scores unless you do well. The ideal score depends on what tier of college you would like to attend. The more competitive the college, the necessity for a higher score. Unfortunately, during this period of heightened college competitiveness, there are more perfect scores and elevated grade point averages (GPA) than ever before. In the past, a 4.0 GPA was rare, but nowadays that might be considered a substandard GPA with many students earning 4.5 and higher. Moreover, studies show taking these entrance exams more than twice does not guarantee a substantial increase in points. Instead, practice test-taking techniques especially under timed conditions replicating the testing environment and learn how to quickly assess each problem so that you complete the SAT/ACT with time to spare for review. Examine your past test questions to identify what subject areas you need to concentrate more time on. If you cannot achieve the score that is required by the college, do not submit it. The University of California will no longer be accepting these entrance exams, but instead, be creating their own tests that best fit what they are looking for in their freshman students.
Without the use of test scores, admissions staff will be examining the high school curriculum more critically. Is the course of study progressively more rigorous? Is the student taking challenging courses? Did the student take courses that are required for his/her proposed major and perform well? For example, a computer science major should be able to demonstrate success in advanced math courses. AP Calculus is now used as a predictor of college success. If you plan on studying in the STEM field, make sure to successfully pass this course with a B or higher at your high school or local community college.
Letters of recommendation are more important than ever. Obtain letters from teachers from both within and outside of your major. Write a short bio about yourself so that the teacher can reference it while writing the letter. Make sure the teacher includes comments about intellectual curiosity, character, empathy, cultural competency, leadership, social responsibility, and commitment to service. Look at the college’s mission, vision, and core values statements. What is important to this college? Align your letters and essays with who they are looking for in their college community.
Activities are viewed closely looking for continuity and sustained commitment. Have you excelled in a sport, leadership role, art, piano, or other talents or hobbies in your life? This defines who you are – what is important to you. What makes you stand out among the thousands of applicants? Participate in activities that match your career goals. If you want to be a doctor, then obtain an internship in a medical office or volunteer at the local hospital.
A question that I get asked regularly is whether a private or public high school has the advantage of admitting more students to prestigious colleges. The answer is simply in the numbers. This is public information so you can find it on the internet. With regards to Harvard, the top high schools in order of the most students admitted are the following: Boston Latin School, Phillips Academy, Stuyvesant High School, and Harvard- Westlake in Los Angeles comes in at number 12 with 8 students being accepted. As you can see, these high schools are either public highly competitive, specialized schools or private academies. Therefore, if you want to increase your chances of getting admitted to a higher-tier college, it is more advantageous to attend a challenging, charter-like public high school or a private college prep academy. The college admissions staff know the high school profiles in their region, and therefore, spend their time where they know they will obtain the greatest yield of college-committed students who best fit their admissions requirements. Each college has feeder high schools they know they can depend on for high achieving students who have met their rigorous curriculum requirements.
No one can predict one’s chances of admission to a competitive college. I always will remember a parent who told me even though his twins had the same GPA, courses, and experiences, one got accepted to UCLA and the other to UCSD. He concluded that college acceptance is like winning the lottery. No one can predict the outcome. This is particularly true since many of the admission factors are internally driven. Every year, enrollment management administrators get together to decide what they are looking for in their next freshman class. The goals are driven by many variables including the following: more families willing to pay the full tuition, majors in need of students, diversity commitments, or a goalie for the women’s soccer team. This is the million-dollar question – who is the college seeking out for their next cohort to complement their current college population?
As college admissions often focuses on being admitted to the top brand name colleges, many non-brand name schools deliver the same quality of education. The college scorecard which is a government-managed website gives consumers data on student success. Many unknown colleges are very successful in graduating students with the skills and knowledge for their chosen careers. There are over 4,000 colleges in the United States. Find the college that has the attributes you are looking for in size, environment, location, and most importantly, curriculum and professors. Students often overlook reviewing the college’s catalog and professor credentials. This is of utmost importance along with the success variables displayed on the scorecard website.