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To Apply to College Early, or Not to Apply to College Early? That is the Question.

By Laura Whitmore

College application season is upon us and students are faced with many decisions as they embark on the often overwhelming process. One such decision is whether or not to apply early. First, let’s run through the three main options your child could be offered when applying to their choice colleges:

1. Early Action (EA)

This is a non-binding option that allows the student to apply early without being obligated to attend the school should they gain admittance. Students who are admitted EA find out early that they are accepted, but do not have to provide the university with an answer until the regular deadline of May 1st.

Please note that some schools follow an EA policy that is restrictive, meaning they may prohibit your son or daughter from applying EA to any additional schools. In other words, they won’t let you shop around.

2. Early Decision (ED)

This is a binding option where the student must attend the school if they get in. The deadline is the same as EA, typically November 15th. You will get notified by mid-December as to whether or not your child got in. Not all schools offer an ED option, but many elite schools do. Some schools offer an ED option that isn’t due until January (not really early, I know). You can only apply to one ED school.

3. Regular Decision

Regular Decision applications are due in January and students receive letters on the status of their application around April 1st.

So, what is the best option to apply with? It depends. Applying EA/ED greatly increases your son or daughter’s chances of being accepted. For example, at a prestigious university that will remain nameless, their acceptance rate ED is around 15%, whereas that of regular decision is only about 6%. The odds are greater when applying early because the university is open to looking at all applicants equally (and the pool to choose from is smaller). Once an application goes to Regular Decision, acceptances have already been doled out and now the university is concerned about having a diverse freshman class. Your child wants to major in engineering? Oh, too bad, they don’t have engineering spots left. Your child is a female? That's a shame, they actually need more males “round out” the class.

Although the odds are in your child’s favor applying early, there are financial trade offs. Applying ED or EA restrictive means that your family will not be given a competitive financial package, since the school knows your son or daughter is coming no matter what. You won’t be able to shop around and compare different schools’ packages.

My recommendation would be to apply Early Action (EA) to a handful of reach schools. You get the best of both worlds: odds of admittance increase and you can still compare different financial packages, as well as apply Regular Decision to some target and safety schools since you don’t have to commit until May 1st anyways. However, not all schools offer an EA non-restrictive option, so consider the pros and cons of ED and Regular Decision, the schools your son/daughter wants to apply to, and make the best decision for your family.

For a complete list of Early Action colleges, please visit ​​

For a complete list of Early Decision colleges, please visit


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