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Benefits Of Applying Early Decision Or Early Action

Stephen Friedfeld, Ph.D
11/21/2012

High school seniors, did you apply early action (EA) or early decision (ED) to a university? Or did you apply rolling decision?

If you applied early action or early decision, your app was likely due on November 1 or November 15, and you’ll get an answer by mid-December. What are the differences between EA and ED? And do you get an advantage in the application process?

EA is an early application – with an early reply – but you are not obligated to enroll if you’re admitted. Some colleges want to give applicants the chance to express their interest in attending, but do not want to pressure students to make a decision about where to attend. If you apply EA to a school, you might get admitted in December, but you might not be sure about attending, so you still have time to submit other applications. Schools that use an early action plan might have similar admit rates in both early and regular decision (when most applicants apply, typically January 1).

ED is quite different. The time line is the same as EA, but – if you’re admitted in mid-December – you are obligated to enroll. It’s very exciting to know in December where you’ll be going to college next fall, but not everyone is so sure of their top choice college. Plus, you won’t have the opportunity to compare financial aid packages from multiple schools. ED does give students a strong advantage in the application process; colleges’ admit rates are significantly higher than they are in regular decision.

Students may only apply ED to one school, and EA to multiple schools (with a few exceptions). Another great option is rolling decision, where students can apply as soon as applications go live, and typically hear a result within about four to six weeks. Most schools that use a rolling decision plan are large public institutions, although there are many small private schools that have also begun to use a rolling admissions process.

So what can you do if you’ve already submitted applications via ED, EA and/or rolling decision? Are you done? Can you rest? Hardly. You should fill out all your other applications! It is not easy or fun to do, but it’s important to continue to work hard on your apps and essays, simply because it’s impossible to predict the future. You might be able to use the essays that you’ve already written for the rest of the colleges on your school list.

What else can you do? Continue to work hard in school! Your senior grades matter very much to colleges, and the first quarter has just ended, but admissions officers will also be looking at your other marking periods, especially if your EA or ED application is deferred until the spring. Finally, make sure you update colleges, via email, with any awards or honors that you’ve received after you’ve submitted your applications.

Waiting around isn’t fun or easy – but working on your other apps and essays, and concentrating on your school work and extracurricular activities, sure can help pass the time in a productive way!

(Stephen is the COO of AcceptU (www.AcceptU.com), a college admissions counseling group that connects applicants with former admissions officers. He has 10+ years of admissions experience at Cornell University and Princeton University. )

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