Soup du jour: Butternut Squash
Pasta du jour: Penne à la Bolognese
Question du jour: What is the difference between applying to college Early Decision and Early Action?
Many colleges give you the option to apply early or before the regular application deadline (when everyone else and their brother applies). Typically, the early application deadline falls around November 1, whereas the regular deadline is usually in early January. When you apply early to a college, you typically find out whether you have been accepted, waitlisted, or rejected in December – way before the Regular Decision applicants find out (they find out their application results in March or April).
However, not all schools are the same. Some offer an Early Decision process while others offer an Early Action or Single-Choice Early Action process. Some colleges don’t offer any early programs at all. These different names for applying early can get confusing, so here's the quick and dirty explanation:
Fancy Shmancy Questionnaire. Please answer the following questions and keep track of your answers.
1. I have done my careful research on the college process, and I know exactly what schools I want to apply to.
a. Heck yes!
b. Well, I’m not quite sure. I think I’d like to do more research. Aren’t there more fish in the sea?
c. What do you mean by “research”?
2. Based on my careful research, I have identified a school that is my first choice. I could really see myself there, and I daydream about it a lot. Late nights in the library, shopping for books, walking to class in the sunshine – it would be awesome. I know practically everything there is to know about this school.
a. Awww yeaaah.
b. I can’t say that I know everything about this school, but, from what I’ve heard and read, it seems really cool.
c. What library?
3. If I were accepted, I would definitely attend this college. I love it.
a. Totally! It would be a dream come true. And I would finish the college process in December. Double win.
b. Well, I’m a little afraid of commitment.
c. What about other colleges? Could I still apply to them?
4. I have plenty of time before the early deadline to assemble an awesome application and to give my teacher recommenders enough time to complete my recommendation forms.
a. Absolutely. I have almost two months!
b. There’s enough time, but I can’t quite make up my mind about whether I want to apply early or not. I kind of want to see what else is out there.
c. The deadline is so soon! I don’t think so.
Now tally all of your answers, and check it out:
If You Answered Mostly As
Dang, you know where you want to go! An Early Decision or Single-Choice Early Action program may be right for you. Shmoop says, go for it. And if, come December, you are accepted, congratulations! If, however, you are waitlisted or rejected, never fear. There are over 3,000 colleges in the United States alone, and you’ve done great research on your most favorites. You are also a step ahead of everyone else, because you’ve already written essays and you’ve asked for recommendations. You know what you want in a school and that you are pre-pared. Celebrate that. Let the fates decide and enjoy the ride.
If You Answered Mostly Bs
Cool. It sounds like you want to expand your horizons and keep fishing for the right college for you. You’ve done a lot of research already, but you are still not quite sure. We definitely understand and respect your methodical ways. A non-binding Early Action process might be best for you if there’s a school that strikes your fancy and makes you giddy. Or, if you are really unsure, the Regular Decision process might be better. Don’t worry if you haven’t found “the one” – you could be happy at a number of different schools.
If You Answered Mostly Cs
No worries, friend! The college process takes a lot of time and energy – it’s almost like having a part time job. If you organize your time and start researching colleges ASAP, it can be really fun. Regular Decision is most likely the way for you. Give yourself lots of time to figure it out.
Now that you’ve done some soul-searching about which plan is right for you, it’s time to get strategic. How do college admission offices view early applicants as opposed to regular applicants?
Well, colleges vary so much. The best way to get to the bottom of these questions is to call up the college admission office and ask them point blank. Chances are, you will get a very honest answer. The college admission websites tend to be very honest too.
Essentially, though, early application programs send a signal to a college that you're interested. If you apply Early Decision, you're telling the college that you're totally in love with them and want desperately to go. Cool. That may give you a slight edge because, to some extent, colleges like predictability about who really would accept their offer of admission. Single-Choice Early Action is similar. Though you're not bound to go to that college if accepted, you're telling the school that they're your favorite. Early Action doesn't necessarily tell a school that they're your favorite, since you can apply to lots of colleges Early Action. What it does do is show them that you're organized and on top of things.
Keep in mind, though, that the applicant pool in early application programs can sometimes be more competitive. So, if your application isn't totally polished by the early deadline, or you're not yet satisfied with your SAT or ACT scores and want to retake them, then definitely hold off and apply Regular Decision. Turning in a rushed or sloppy application early won't help you.
We think it's a good idea to get a variety of opinions on whether or not you should apply early to a college (or colleges). Talk to your friends, parents, siblings, or advisors and see what they think. Also, check out some wise sayings that came, no doubt, from Yoda-like dudes:
The early bird gets the worm. Acceptance rates tend to be slightly higher in the early action/early decision round versus the regular decision round. In some cases, you have a greater chance of being accepted if you apply early than if you apply regular.
First come, first served. Applying early means that your application is one of the very first applications that admission officers read that year. Though they sometimes save a number of spots in the class to be filled by regular decision applicants, you set the tone for their class. Plus, college admission officers are fresh and rested in the early round! They are full of energy and are excited to read applications.
Strike while the iron is hot. If you love the school, go for it. Seize the day.
Forewarned is forearmed. No matter what the outcome of your early process is, you will be better prepared for the regular process if you’ve already completed early application(s).
A stitch in time saves nine. Be careful and take your time when filling out applications, especially online applications. Your careful attention will make things smoother in the long run.
He who hesitates is lost. College admission offices like students who apply early; it shows them that they really like their school (over other schools), and it shows initiative. Assembling a good application so early in the game shows that you are confident and prepared.
Don’t change horses in midstream. Hehe. This one tickles our fancy. But it does make a good point: do good research ahead of time. If you want to apply early to a college, know exactly why you want to go there. If you are having second thoughts, you can change your early application to a regular application midstream. But this creates extra work and is kind of a hassle for the college admission office. Your goal is to make their lives easier, not harder.
Haste makes waste. Sometimes applying early stresses people out and makes them rush their applications. Take your time. It never helps to submit a sloppy application.
If you want a thing done well, do it yourself. Yup, even if you are pressed for time, don’t hand your application off to anyone else – parents, teachers, friends, coaches, advisors, etc. This puppy is yours and yours alone. College admission offices will respect a genuine application much, much more than one that has had multiple “contributors.”
Look before you leap. Research ahead of time! It will make your life so much easier. If you can’t afford or don’t have time to visit colleges, don’t worry. You can read and watch videos about them online. Colleges want you to want them, so they’ve got fancy websites and fancy reading material. Find the college newspaper and read up on campus events and issues. Talk to current and former students at a particular college. If you are offered admission, lots of colleges will help you find the time and money to come visit.
Good things come to those who wait. If you are waitlisted, either through the early or regular processes, don’t worry. Be honored that the college likes you and wants to consider you still. The glass is half full, friend, always half full.
Laughter is the best medicine. The college admission process is rough. Remember to laugh lots. It helps.
There are always more fish in the sea. So true. More than 3,000, in fact. And that just includes American colleges and universities.
It ain’t over till the fat lady sings. So, yeah, don’t give up until you hear her singing. If things don’t work out in the early admission process, you still have plenty of other great colleges out there to apply to Regular Decision.