Early Admission: What You Need to Know
SOMETIMES IT FEELS LIKE APPLYING TO college introduces more new terms than the SAT vocabulary tests: early decision, early action, single-choice early action, rolling admissions, nonrestrictive early action—what’s the difference?
Early decision is a commitment to attend if you’re accepted, even if it means you have to pay full price. It should be reserved for your first choice because it’s a binding contract. If you’re accepted to a school under early decision terms, you’ll be committed to attending and need to withdraw all other college applications.
Early action provides a means of applying to a college early without the binding agreement to attend if you’re accepted. Some schools only offer the single-choice early action, which means that you can apply early action only to their school. Schools that offer nonrestrictive early action allow you to apply early to as many schools as you want. If you have a first choice school but can’t commit to go unless you get a certain amount of financial aid, early action is probably a better choice than early decision.
Unlike early decision and early action, which typically require you to apply in November of your senior year in order to get a decision by December, the deadlines for regular decision are typically January through March. Colleges that use a rolling admissions process review applications throughout the year, making decisions in the order the applications are received.
More than 460 colleges in the United States now offer an early admissions option. According to the College Board, colleges offering early decision have increased by 7 percent in the last five years. This is good news for colleges, as they get an earlier glimpse of the incoming class, which helps them determine who to accept from the applicant pool under regular decision in order to “round out” the class. Plus, for many colleges, a large number of applicants is a measure of success.
Of course, the advantage to the applicant is that getting an early decision alleviates some stress (if you’re accepted) or gives you time to apply to other schools (if you’re not accepted or if you’re deferred or placed into the regular-deadline applicant pool). In addition, many colleges have reported a higher acceptance rate for early decision applicants compared to those applying regular decision.
But applying early decision can rush seniors into making a permanent decision, and could leave them paying full sticker price at a very expensive school. It also could prove to be a disservice to students whose grades and test scores don’t improve until later in their senior year. Still, if you’ve had your heart set on that one school since fifth grade, and your grades and test scores don’t need to improve significantly over the final semester of high school, applying early might make your dreams come true.