Early Action vs Early Decision to University

college admissions college search common application Oct 05, 2018

Early action and early decision application deadlines are around the corner, usually November 1 and November 15. In advance of these upcoming dates, here are some top questions and answers when deciding if your students should apply – and take advantage – of these early deadlines:

  1. What are Early Action and Early Decision?

Early Action (EA) applications are nonbinding, which means admitted students are not required to commit to attend the university. Students can decide in late Spring. Early Decision (ED) applications are binding, which means admitted students must attend the university. Approximately 450 universities have early action or early decision options.

  1. What is single-choice or restrictive early action?

Many top universities - Harvard, Yale, Stanford - enforce a “single-choice” or “restrictive early action” policy. The policy varies by university, but its restrictions lie somewhere between early action and early decision for admitted students. Harvard’s restrictive early action program allows students to apply to Harvard early action and to any public university or foreign universities. However, it does not allow early action applicants to apply to U.S. private university’s early action or early decision. Accepted students do not have confirm their admission until late Spring. As each university sets their own policies, be sure to know the specific early application restrictions before submitting applications to your top choice schools.

  1. How does financial aid factor into early applications?

For early action applicants, students can accept to deny admission offers for any reason, and financial aid could be one of them. For early decision applicants, admission is binding irrespective of financial aid package offered. That said, more and more colleges allow insufficient financial aid to be the reason for turning down admission; however, policies vary by universities as well as definition of “insufficient” financial aid, so be sure to inquire into this before the early application deadlines.

  1. Should my student apply early action or early decision?

This depends on the student. Is the student clear on her or his top university? Has the school researched about the school beforehand and shown demonstrated interest to the school? Has the student prepared academically to meet or exceed the general profile of admitted students? Does the student understand the requirements of early applications and, if necessary, financial aid? Is the student prepared to accept the binding nature of the early decision result? If yes to the above, then the student might be an excellent candidate for early applications.

  1. Is there an advantage to early applications?

In most cases, yes. Statistically, many universities accept a greater percentage of students in the early pool, defined as total students accepted over total students applied. Yale University accepted 15% of students in early applications versus 6% in the regular pool. Northwestern University accepted 25% in the early pool versus 8% in the regular pool. That said, a student who does not meet the general profile of admitted students may not fare better in the early pool. Georgetown University’s website states: “There is no statistical advantage in applying Early Action, as both our Early Action and Regular Decision pools will have roughly the same acceptance rate.”


While these are top frequently asked questions, each university sets its own policies. So, do your homework – especially when it comes to where the student will spend the next years of their lives. This is an exciting next step, so we wish students the best of luck in their journeys!

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