More and more schools report filling substantial portions of their freshman classes through early decision or early action, and it’s not uncommon to hear of higher acceptance rates of early decision/early admission candidates than regular decision. But does that mean you should do it? Maybe, maybe not.
First, remember the difference between early action and early decision: Early decision is binding; if the student receives an admission offer with an acceptable aid package, they must accept the offer. Most schools require students to only apply to one early decision school. Early admission is non-binding; it merely gives the student an answer earlier in the process, but they generally have until the regular admission deadline to decide.
And while it is often true that acceptance rates are higher with early decision/early action, that’s a statistic that should be taken with a grain of salt: the applicant pool is considerably smaller and more homogeneous than the regular decision pool where many Common App students check a few extra boxes to apply to more schools.
So, who should apply early decision? The No. 1 rule of early decision is this: If you’re asking which school you should apply early decision to, the answer is “None.” Early decision is a great option for students who have a clear favorite school and are not relying on a financial aid package to make college possible or realistic.
Early action is a different animal because it’s non-binding. That means you can apply to multiple schools and evaluate everything– early action and regular decision– on the same timeline. In addition, some schools require prospective students to apply early action in order to be eligible for some scholarships.
A student on one of our tours mentioned a good reason to apply early action: Knowing where you’ll be going before you need to sign up for AP or IB exams can save you quite a bit of test money. Knowing, for example, that your school will only accept 7s on the IB test for credit, or will only give placement, or will require you to take an AP test to get credit for a dual-credit class you took in high school can save money and stress come spring test-taking season.
The considerations might be slightly different for athletes or other target students (which might include legacies or academic scholarship recipients), depending on the school and sport. Many schools require early action/decision of these students, and this can also skew the data on acceptance rates from these programs.
Why do colleges have these policies? It’s not to simplify the process for you, of course. Many schools like them because they can help yield (the % of accepted students who matriculate); others like to fill lots of slots in the early period so as to be more selective in regular decision (another stat that helps colleges in the rankings game).
Here is a detailed chart of early action/early decision plans by college, including comparisons of acceptance rates in EA/ED vs RD. (Note the above caveats when evaluating acceptance rates.) A rule of thumb is, if your favorite school(s) offer early action and admit 50% or more of the freshman class through early action, then you should apply EA so as to not put your application at risk. (This may become a self-fulfilling prophecy!) If the rate is lower than that, you should expect similar admissions results going either route.
Every school has its own policy about how many students are accepted via EA/ED, and many will redirect early applicants to the regular decision pool rather than decline them outright if the student is a borderline candidate.
What are we doing? My son might apply EA to UO since it’s non-binding and his first choice– it would be nice to have that out of the way. My daughter is applying early to two schools, solely based on scholarship requirements.
If you’re still considering EA/ED, here’s an important consideration: The deadline is generally either Nov. 1 or Nov. 15, so you’d best get on this right away!