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When to Apply Early Decision vs. Early Action to Colleges

In this article, we discuss when it’s better to apply early decision vs. early action to colleges, and some things for you to consider when applying…

What is Early Decision?

Recent buzz about the advantages of applying early decision as opposed to regular decision has created confusion among students and their families. They are interested in maximizing their chances of getting into a strong college, but are reticent about limiting their college choices.

Early decision applications for college are often due in early to mid-November of a student’s senior year. In fact, during this time, you must agree that you will apply early decision to only one institution. Admissions decisions will be made by mid-December enabling the completion of regular applications due in January or February, if necessary. If accepted, it is a binding decision unless financial aid is inadequate. If so, the institution can withdraw their offer of admission and you cannot apply again that academic year. The following observations are designed to assist students and parents wrestling with this issue.

1. The Early Decision Acceptance Rate is Considerably Higher than the Regular Decision Rates

Statistical evidence is clear that applying early decision increases one’s prospects of getting into strong institutions if your grades, exam scores, and extracurricular activities are up to par for that respective college. For example: Ivy League -Columbia University accepts 19.6 percent of early decision applicants and nine percent of regular decision applicants. Amherst College, which is rated second among national liberal arts institutions in the 2011 edition of US News and World Report’s Best Colleges, accepts 36.56 percent of applicants for early decision and 16 percent of regular decision applicants. This pattern generally holds at strong institutions. The applicant pool at these institutions is highly competitive, but you can improve your odds of admission through early decision.

2. Early Decision is Not for Those Ambivalent about an Institution

If you’re not sold on the academic and non-academic dimensions of an institution, early decision is not for you. Uncertainty about the wisdom of your decision is not a good psychological state as you head into a challenging freshman year. You don’t want to apply early decision unless you’re 100% committed to attending that school.

3. If you are uncertain about apply early decision, early action is a non-binding option for you

If you are not fully committed to attending an institution, consider early action. With this option you can commit to a college on the spot or wait until the spring while applying to other institutions . Early action, however, is less common than early decision at the strongest national colleges and universities.

4. If you are considering early decision or early action, you need a head start on exams, interviews and the college application.

If you are considering early decision or early action, students are advised to jump start their exam, interview, and application schedule. Standardized tests, college visits, and interviews should take place in their junior year. Early decision applications should be completed by September of a student’s senior year. November is a common due date for early decision and early action applications, but follow the deadlines of the institution in which you are interested.

Deliberation and research are pre-conditions for the successful college search. Early decision applications are not for the faint-hearted and must be pursued in keeping with the guidelines of your target institution.
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This article was written by David Dickson. David is a college admissions counselor with Top Test Prep. For more information on Top Test Prep‘s programs call (800) 501-Prep.