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Should You Apply for Early Action or Early Decision?

If you have dreams of attending a specific college, then applying for early action (EA) or early decision (ED) could be a great option for you. You may already own all their college swag, but you’ve also done your research, compared your options, and know this is where you want to go to school. Not all schools offer EA and ED, but if your top-choice college does, and you’re eager to get a head-start on applying, let’s go over the two options to see if one of these is a good route for you.

Early Action

With EA, you can apply early to a college and receive an early admission decision, typically by January or February. Admissions offered through EA are non-binding, meaning you’re not obligated to attend the school if you’re accepted. This is a great option if you’re interested in a particular school but are still open to other choices. Here are the facts on EA:

  • You can apply to multiple schools with EA.
  • You do not have to commit to attending the college when you receive your acceptance letter.
  • You must decide if you’ll accept the offer of admission by May 1—which is the normal response date for the college admission cycle.

Early Decision

With ED, you apply early to your first-choice college—typically in November. You’ll receive an admission decision around December, which is significantly earlier than if you were to apply through the normal application process. If you’re accepted as an ED applicant, you’ll enter into a binding agreement, which means you must attend this college. Here is what you need to know about ED:

  • You can only apply to one college with ED. You need to go through the normal application process if you apply to other schools, though you can apply to another college for EA.
  • If you’re accepted, you’ll receive your offers of admission and financial aid at the same time.
  • If the financial aid package is adequate and you accept the offer of admission, you must withdraw all other applications.
  • You’ll need to send a nonrefundable deposit well in advance of May 1.

What to Consider

While it’s great to have a head start in planning for college, there are some things to consider before deciding to apply for EA or ED.

  • Financial aid. If you’re accepted through ED, you won’t be able to compare financial aid offers from other schools before making your decision.
  • Your college choices. Are you comfortable giving up the opportunity to attend any of the other schools you’ve applied to if you’re accepted for ED?
  • Other applications. Even if you feel set on attending your top-choice college, it’s a smart idea to apply to other schools through the normal admission process. There will be a small window of time between receiving a response for ED and the national deadline for all college applications. If you don’t get accepted through ED, you don’t want to have to rush to apply to other schools.
  • Standardized tests. You’ll need to take the SAT or ACT as early as possible so you can submit your score with your application.
  • Maintaining your grades. Most importantly, you need to maintain your level of dedication to school even after you’re accepted. Schools can revoke their offer if there is a change in your GPA.

Choosing the Right Option

If your top-choice school offers EA or ED, do your research before deciding to apply. You want to be confident that you have chosen the right school for you. Take into consideration the cost, degree programs, campus culture, and location before making your decision—and check out our guide to visiting a college campus to help you narrow down what you want from your college experience. After this, if you’ve decided that you have found the college of your dreams—go ahead and get a head start on planning for your future college experience.

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