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Should you apply early decision?

If you find a college that you're sure is right for you, consider applying early. Early decision and early action plans allow you to apply early (usually in November) and get an admissions decision from the college well in advance of the usual spring notification date. You’ll know by December or January whether you've been accepted at your first-choice college. Sometimes, students who apply under these plans have a better chance of acceptance than they would through the regular admissions process. These plans are also good for colleges, because they get students who really want to go to the school to commit early in the process.

Early Decision vs. Early Action

You should be aware of the differences between early decision and early action before sending in your applications. The exact rules may vary somewhat by college. Check with your counselor to make sure you understand your rights and obligations.

Early decision plans are binding. You agree to attend the college if it accepts you and offers an adequate financial aid package. Although you can apply to only one college for early decision, you may apply to other colleges through the regular admissions process. If you're accepted by your first-choice college early, you must withdraw all other applications. Usually, colleges insist on a nonrefundable deposit well before May 1.

Early action plans are similar but are not binding, unlike early decision. If you’ve been accepted, you can choose to commit to the college immediately, or wait until the spring. Under these plans, you may also apply early action to other colleges. Usually, you have until the late spring to let the college know your decision.

Single-choice early action is a new option offered by a few colleges. This plan works the same way as other early action plans, but candidates may not apply early (either early action or early decision) to any other school. You can still apply to other schools and are not required to give your final answer of acceptance until the regular decision deadline.

Application Type Binding Can Apply Early to Other Colleges Can Apply to Other Colleges Under Regular Admissions
Early Decision Yes No Yes
Early Action No Yes Yes
Single-Choice Early Action No No Yes

Should I Apply Under One of These Plans?

You should apply under an early decision or early action plan only if you are very sure of the college you want to attend. Do not apply under an early decision or early action plan if you plan to weigh offers and financial aid packages from several colleges later in the spring. Also, you shouldn't apply early if it is advantageous to have more of your senior year work to show a college.

Which Colleges Offer Early Plans?

More than 400 colleges offer an early decision plan, an early action plan, or both. Use our College Search to look up each college you're interested in and see if it offers these options. You can also find this information in the College Handbook. Some colleges have chosen to discontinue their early decision and early action plans because they are potentially unfair to students who rely heavily on financial aid. There is a concern that students who apply early may be limiting their financial aid opportunities and feel forced to make a decision without adequate time to consider all aid awards available.

Do Your Research

Before applying to an early decision or early action plan, research all your options to decide which college is the right one for you. You can use College Search to find schools that match your preferences.

Get Input

You do not have to apply early decision or early action; they are simply options you might want to consider. Talk with your parents about whether it is in your best interests. It’s important that they understand there might be financial implications. Get advice from your high school counselor and other trusted advisors before applying to a college as an early decision applicant. Your counselor is a trained, objective professional who serves as your advocate in the college search process.

A Last Word of Advice

In the fall, it may seem appealing to get the college decision over with, but you may find your goals changing as your senior year progresses. On the other hand, you may be confident of thriving at a certain college. If so, you're the type of student early decision was created for.

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