There is a lot of talk about college applications right now. The questions I’m hearing most often are “what is the difference between early action and early decision?” and “should I apply early?”.
Before we talk about whether you should apply early, let’s be clear about what the different admissions policies are.
Schools that have rolling admissions do not have a set cut off for applications. Rather, they review applications and make acceptance decisions as the applications come in. In other words, on a “rolling” basis. Most colleges with rolling admissions decisions will begin accepting applications in September or October. For these schools, it is best to submit early because the school will have more slots to fill towards the beginning of the admissions season.
Early decision is a “binding” agreement. This means that, if you are accepted to a school on early decision, you are expected to attend that school. Most early decision deadlines are in the beginning of November. The upside of applying early decision is that it shows a school that you are committed to that school. That is an extra point for you in the eyes of an admissions officer. However, because it is binding, you are only allowed to apply to one early decision school. If you are accepted, you are expected to withdraw any regular decision applications that have been submitted. Therefore, you must be absolutely certain that this is your top choice school before applying early decision.
Early Action also allows students to apply early. However, it is not binding so you may apply to multiple schools Early Action. The upside is to have your applications completed and to already have admissions decisions by January or February. If a school does not accept you early, it may choose to defer your application to regular admissions. This is generally the case for students that are in the mid-range of accepted scores and GPA’s for that school.
Regular admissions is just like it sounds. This is the final due date to apply to a school. For most schools, this date is in January or early February and decisions are mailed in late March to April.
Now that we are clear on the meaning of the different application deadlines, should you apply early?
This depends on a number of factors. One, is Early Decision the only option? If so, you should only apply early if you are absolutely sure that it is the school for you.
The second major factor is how your grades and scores compare to the averages of accepted grades and scores at that particular school. In most cases, students will only be accepted early if they are in the top ranges of accepted scores and GPA’s. This information can be found by looking for the freshman class profile from the previous year’s class. If you are in the middle of the ranges, applying early could still be a good idea, even though your application may be deferred to the spring, because it will show that you have true interest in that school.
If you are in the lower ranges of accepted scores, applying early may not be a good idea. When you apply regular decision, your application will include the first semester grades of your senior year. It also gives you time to re-take the SAT or ACT, if needed. These areas may help bolster your application.
The final consideration is the financial aid package. If financing college is a concern for you and your family, it may be better to apply only early action and regular. This way, you can wait to see the financial aid packages offered by each school before making a final decision on which to attend.
These are, of course, general guidelines. Please feel free to contact us if you have questions about your unique situation. Happy Applying!