High school seniors beginning the application process are confronted with countless choices. One of the first is, do I apply early decision or early action rather than waiting for the regular admissions process? If financial aid is a key consideration in your school selection, then generally you are best served by waiting and going the regular admissions route.
Before talking about why, let’s quickly review both. Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA) both allow students to submit applications and get an admissions decision early. But there’s a big difference: ED is binding, meaning that if the student is accepted and receives an adequate financial aid offer, they must attend that school. EA is non-binding and students who are accepted through EA can wait until May 1 to decide on acceptance.
If financial aid is a key consideration in your school choice, ED should not even be under discussion because of its binding nature. EA at least gives the student the opportunity to wait until receiving other acceptances and aid packages, but many schools are leery of filling EA slots with too many students needing larger aid packages so you might find that EA works to your disadvantage if your need for aid is above average for the school (based on average net price and grant info that you can find on either the school’s net price calculator or on College Navigator).
If you are considering EA, you should be looking very specifically at the school’s EA admissions versus standard admissions. Is a higher percentage applicants admitted? And if so, is that because they’re admitting more students this way or because the profile of EA applicants is higher than the general applicant pool?
There is one other form of admissions that gets a little less attention: Rolling admissions. In a rolling admissions process, the school evaluates applications as they are received. A strong applicant who has financial need does typically do best to apply early in a rolling admissions process before the school disburses its full scholarship budget.