What is the difference between Early Decision, Early Action, and Regular Decision?

Early Decision (ED) is a binding agreement, meaning if you are admitted to the college where you applied ED, you will attend it. You are also required to withdraw your other college applications if you are admitted Early Decision. Early Action (EA) is nonbinding; if you are admitted EA, you have until the college’s stated decision deadline (usually May 1 or June 1) to let the college know if you are accepting their offer of admission or not. Some colleges offer ED and EA and some just offer one of these options. Early application deadlines are typically in November or early December and applicants are usually notified of the admissions decision within four weeks of applying. Under Regular Decision, students apply by early January and are given an admissions decision by late March. They then have until May 1 or June 1, depending on the college, to let the college know whether or not they are accepting their offer of admission.

As a college counselor, I am often asked “Should I apply Early Decision?” and my answer is always only if you are 100% sure you would attend if you are admitted and if you do not need to compare financial aid offers. Otherwise, apply Early Action if the college offers that option or Regular Decision. Students also wonder if it is easier to be admitted Early Decision. At some, although not all, colleges, the Early Decision applicant pool disproportionately consists of recruited athletes, legacies, and extremely high-achieving applicants, so the ED acceptance rate is higher. If an applicant does not fall into one of these groups, the acceptance rate is typically the same as for Regular Decision applicants, though this varies by college.

If a student is not admitted Early Decision or Early Action, they cannot apply Regular Decision, as the admissions decision has been made. Students who are deferred to Regular Decision (neither admitted nor denied admission) often consult with me to discuss the steps they can take to strengthen their application, such as sending a letter of continued interest and making sure the college is updated on any new grades as well as extracurricular accomplishments.

Be sure to carefully weigh all factors before opting to apply Early Decision.

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It is an exciting time for these kids, but I also think it is a time of much uncertainty as they begin to navigate the next stages of their lives. You helped bring certainty to the table, maintained peace in the family, and helped us as parents understand the process and our role.