College-Bound Seniors: Is Early Action Or Early Decision Right For You?

It’s tempting to get it all over with as soon as possible. You’ve done your research, you’ve written your essays, and you feel prepared and ready to apply. Wouldn’t it be nice to know sooner rather than later where you are going to college?

Before you rush to meet the early application deadlines for college admission, which are looming, do take some time to think about whether or not to apply early action or early decision.

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We’ve put together our what, why, and why not of early action and early decision applications below to help you think this through.

What Is Early Action?

There are two types of EA programs:

  • Restrictive early action (sometimes called single choice EA)
  • Non-restrictive early action

Restrictive EA limits you to applying to only one early action institution and to no institutions for ED.* Only a small handful of schools subscribe to this admissions policy.  Non-restrictive EA has no such limitations and you are welcome to apply to multiple schools through EA.

In both cases you apply in November or December but still have until May 1 to decide which college to attend. You are permitted to turn down any offer of admission in either type of EA because both are non-binding.

*Note: There are exceptions to this granted for public universities, special honors and scholarship programs, and foreign universities.

Why Apply Early Action?


  • possibly receive an early acceptance, which reduces the anxiety of wondering “will I get in anywhere?”
  • focus your energy on completing applications, essays, and testing requirements earlier in the year
  • have the opportunity to demonstrate to the college your high level of interest
  • get the chance to determine whether you want to submit some of your regular decision applications to other schools

Because the time between when you find out the results of EA and the regular decision deadline (typically January 1) is tight, you should keep working on your remaining applications. You might need to submit them in a hurry if you don’t get an EA acceptance.

Why Not to Apply Early Action?

You should not apply EA if your previous grades (particularly those from junior year) were not strong and you are working hard to demonstrate an upward trend senior year.  The timing of grade submission for EA (before the term is over) will not allow you to show your improved senior grades in their best light.

What Is Early Decision?


  • is a binding commitment to enroll
  • requires you to withdraw all other applications and enroll at that institution
  • does not allow you to apply to more than one early decision school at the same time

ED applications are typically due in the fall between November 1 and December 15, and students will be notified of the admission decision within six weeks.

Why Apply Early Decision?


  • thoroughly researched the programs at the college
  • visited the campus
  • want to communicate to the college that it is undoubtedly your first choice school
  • want to know a decision before January 1

Why Not to Apply Early Decision?

If you are accepted ED, you:

Make sure you check with the specific college to understand its EA/ED policies.