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What Is Early Action for College?

September 15, 2023
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Early Action is a type of admissions process that some colleges and universities offer to prospective students. The process, often called EA, allows applicants to apply to the institution early and receive an admissions decision well before the regular decision deadline.

It's important to note that not all colleges offer Early Action, and each institution may have its specific policies and deadlines regarding this application process. As with any college application process, it's crucial to research each school's policies and requirements to determine if Early Action is the right choice for you.

Read on for an overview of the Early Action application process and an explanation of key differences between the early action, early decision, and regular decision processes.

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What Is Early Action for College?

Basics of Early Action Applications

Early Application Deadline:

Students must submit their applications earlier than the regular deadline, often in November or December of their senior year in high school.


Early Action is non-binding, meaning that if a student is accepted under Early Action, they are not obligated to enroll at that particular college. They have until the regular decision deadline to make their final decision.

Faster Decision Notification:

Colleges typically review Early Action applications quickly and notify students of their admissions decision earlier than Regular Decision applicants to give students more time to consider their options and make well-informed decisions.

Can Apply to Multiple Schools:

Students applying through Early Action can also apply to other colleges and universities. This process differs from Early Decision, where applicants agree to attend the college if accepted and usually can only apply to one institution under Early Decision.

Advantages in Admissions:

Some colleges have a higher acceptance rate for Early Action applicants compared to regular decision applicants because Early Action applicants are often strong candidates, and by admitting them early, the college can secure some of their incoming class sooner.

 Early Action for College

Early Action vs. Early Decision vs. Regular Decision

Early Action, Early Decision, and Regular Decision are three different application options colleges and universities offer prospective students. Each option has distinct characteristics and deadlines, providing applicants with varying levels of flexibility and commitment. Some of their key differences include:

Application Deadlines

Early Action: Early in the fall of senior year (usually November or December).

Early Decision: Similar to Early Action, the deadline is in the fall of senior year (usually November or December).

Regular Decision: Usually in the winter or early spring of the senior year (often January 1st or later).

Decision Notification Timeline

Early Action: Admissions decisions are typically released by January or February.

Early Decision: Admissions decisions are typically released in December.

Regular Decision: Admissions decisions are typically released in March or April.

 Early Action

Level of Commitment to an Institution

Early Action:

  • Non-Binding: Students are not obligated to enroll if admitted. They have until the regular decision deadline to make their final college choice.
  • Can Apply to Multiple Schools: Students can apply to other colleges and universities under Early Action and Regular Decision.

Early Decision:

  • Binding: If accepted under Early Decision, the student must withdraw all other college applications and commit to enrolling in the college.
  • Apply to Only One School: Students can apply to only one institution under Early Decision.

Regular Decision:

  • Non-Binding: Students must decide whether to enroll until the acceptance deadline (usually May 1st).
  • Can Apply to Multiple Schools: Students can apply to several colleges and universities under Regular Decision.

It's essential for applicants to carefully consider the options and policies of each college they're interested in when choosing between Early Action, Early Decision, or Regular Decision. Early Decision is a significant commitment, as students are bound to attend a college if accepted. Early Action offers the advantage of an early decision without a binding commitment. Regular Decision provides more time to weigh their options before finalizing their college choice.

Is Early Action Better Than Early Decision?

Ultimately, the choice between Early Action and Early Decision depends on the student's level of certainty about their top-choice college, their financial situation, and their willingness to commit early in the process. Students who are absolutely sure about their first-choice college and have carefully considered the financial implications may find Early Decision advantageous.

On the other hand, students who want to keep their options open and have more time to decide might prefer Early Action or Regular Decision. Students need to research each college's policies and consider their personal preferences and goals before deciding.

Potential Benefits of Early Action

Potential Benefits of Early Action

Early Action can offer several potential benefits to prospective college students, including:

Early Admission Decision

With Early Action, students receive admission decisions earlier than those who apply through Regular Decision. This decision process lets them know in advance whether they have been accepted, reducing uncertainty and stress during the college application process.

Demonstrates Interest

Applying through Early Action demonstrates a strong interest in the college. Admissions committees may view Early Action applicants as more committed and enthusiastic about attending their institution.

More Time to Decide

Early Action is non-binding, meaning students are not required to enroll if admitted. They have until the regular decision deadline to make their final college choice. This extra time allows them to carefully consider their options, visit campuses, and compare financial aid offers.

Higher Acceptance Rates

Some colleges have a higher acceptance rate for Early Action applicants compared to Regular Decision applicants because they may reserve a portion of their incoming class for Early Action applicants, who are often strong candidates.

Merit Scholarships and Financial Aid

Early Action applicants may have an advantage in receiving merit-based scholarships or financial aid. Colleges with limited scholarship funds often allocate some awards to attract top applicants through the Early Action pool.

Reduced Stress

Getting an early acceptance can alleviate the stress associated with the college application process. Students can focus on their senior year with the assurance that they have been accepted to at least one college.

Stronger Applications

Applying Early Action allows students to submit their applications when they feel their materials are at their best, which can lead to a more polished and thoughtful application, potentially enhancing their chances of acceptance.

Possible Deferral or Waitlist

If a student is not accepted during the Early Action round, they may be deferred to the Regular Decision round or placed on a waitlist. While this is not the desired outcome, it still keeps the door open for potential acceptance later on.

The benefits of Early Action can vary depending on the college's policies and the strength of the applicant pool. Additionally, students should consider their circumstances and preferences when deciding whether to apply through Early Action or for Regular Decision.

Check out the blog for even more guidance on the college search process, from standardized testing to financial aid packages.

Early Action benefits

Frequently Asked Questions About Early Action for College

Why do colleges offer Early Action?

Early Action benefits colleges by attracting top students, shaping their incoming class and increasing their competitiveness. At the same time, it provides students with more flexibility and information in making their college decisions, easing the admissions process for both parties involved.

What is restrictive Early Action?

Restrictive Early Action is similar to Early Action but may restrict students from applying to other private colleges or universities early.

How do I know if applying to college early is right for me?

Deciding whether to apply to college early (either through Early Action or Early Decision) requires carefully considering your circumstances, preferences, and goals. For example, if you have a "dream college" or "dream school" that you are certain you would attend if admitted, applying earlier may be for you.

Remember that applying earlier is not a requirement, and many students apply through Regular Decision and have successful college admissions outcomes. The most important thing is making an informed decision based on your circumstances, preferences, and college goals. Take the time to weigh the pros and cons, and don't hesitate to seek guidance from those who can provide valuable insights into the process.

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