So, you’ve finally whittled down your list of schools and are considering applying early to get the ball rolling on your college plans. By now, you should know if early admission is even an option at the schools you want to submit your applications to (and if you don’t, you should find out!) Typically, there are three ways that you can apply for early acceptance and some schools may offer more than one of the following options:
Early Action (EA)
This option allows you to apply to more than one school early and gives you an early answer about your acceptance. EA applications shouldn’t be used liberally; do not apply this way to every school on your list. Having the ability to submit multiple EAs doesn’t mean you should feel free to overuse it.
Early Decision (ED)
This option also gives you an early answer, but restricts you to applying ED to only one school and requires that you’ll guarantee up front that you’ll enroll if you’re accepted. If you are accepted, you must withdraw your applications to any other colleges. You’re committed to the school and can’t apply anywhere else, even during the regular admission season.
Single Choice Early Action (SCEA) or Restrictive Early Action (REA)
This is the newest option, which limits you to applying early to only one school to get an answer in advance about acceptance. It’s not binding, but restricts you from applying anywhere else under an EA or ED application. You can apply elsewhere during regular admission and do not have to make a decision to enroll until the school’s regular deadline.
Things to keep in mind when seeking early admission
It all seems simple enough, doesn't it? Apply early, get accepted and wait for school to start. However, it’s not quite that black and white. While applying early offers a couple of advantages, you should limit your ED/EA application to the one school you want to attend more than any other. If you’re not sure about your school choice, don’t do it. However, if you think it’s THE ONE, make sure you do the following before you send in that paperwork:
- Thoroughly research everything about the school and make absolutely certain that it's your #1 choice
- Carefully read the school's requirements and policies
- Peruse the admission criteria and make sure that you have a good shot at being accepted
If you apply for early decision
If you decide to apply early after doing all your legwork, then you should know by the end of December if you’ve been accepted, rejected, or placed on a waitlist. If a thick envelope appears in your mailbox, jump up and down with joy, then relax and savor the rest of your senior year, even if you have other applications pending. (If you’ve used the early application option properly, then you know you’ve been accepted at your first-choice school or at least have a guaranteed acceptance if you choose not to enroll at any other school that may accept you later).
If you’re turned away for early admission, remember that it’s not the end of the world. We swear! Pick yourself up by your bootstraps and keep plowing forward. Revisit your list of preferred schools and get those applications in before the deadlines. You’ll know early on where you stand with your early choice school so don’t waste time lamenting—move on to plan B!
A deferred admission, or non-committal response, means that the school may accept you but won’t make a decision until they receive all of their regular applications. It’s wise to treat this as a possible rejection and to press forward with your other college applications. Take advantage of the interval between December and April to add to your file in the admission office, including any award notices or special recognition that you receive.
What the schools have to say about early application
EA/ED options for getting into college aren't without controversy, and most colleges and universities do not promote applying early as a strategy to increase your prospects for admission. Similarly, most don’t rely on EA/ED applicants to fill up their freshman class, although your chances of acceptance may be slightly higher during the EA/ED timeframe. However, some schools are actually starting to do away with EA/ED options completely, including Harvard and Princeton, and others are expected to follow suit.
One well-known school’s philosophy about early-action applicants is based on the belief that if you apply early, you’re demonstrating a strong commitment to their school. Your GPA may be A- to B+, compared to the regular pool’s A average, but if you’ve applied under ED, then you’re showing a definitive interest. That weighs in your favor. This philosophy mirrors that of many schools that offer Early Action and Early Decision application options.
For schools moving away from EA/ED options, most believe that the EA/ED process is unfair to less advantaged students, particularly those who don't even know that such options exist. By doing away with early application, they hope to level the playing field at admission time.
Overall, an EA/ED application allows you to get in early to schools that may be highly competitive and that you strongly want to attend. Whether you get early acceptance or are turned down, you can get a step ahead in your college planning.