Early Action or Early Decision: Which is Better?

by Bethany Goldszer | Last Updated: July 4, 2020

When you apply to college this fall, you will have to decide the admissions cycle, Early Decision (ED) or Early Action (EA). Research shows that your admissions chances may be higher if you apply EA or ED, provided that you are a strong candidate. ED and EA due dates are either November 1 or November 15. 

Early Action or Early Decision

First, the key difference between Early Decision and Early Action is your commitment to actually attending the college. If you apply Early Decision, you will sign a binding commitment to enroll if admitted. In contrast, for Early Action, you can submit your application in the first-round admissions pool without the obligation to attend if you are admitted. You can only apply Early Decision to one school. When it comes to Early Action, on the other hand, you can apply to more than one Early Action college and one Early Decision college. Keep in mind that if you are admitted to the Early Decision college, you will have to rescind pending EA applications or decline any offers of admission.

Some schools will have an Early Action I or Early Decision II due date in November, and another Early Action II and Early Decision II due date that falls in January. If you apply early, after November due dates and your application is deferred or denied, you can apply in Early Action II, Early Decision II, or Regular decision due dates.

Benefits of Applying Early Action or Early Decision?

Applying Early Action is always a good choice. You can show colleges your excitement. Also, you will compete with a smaller pool of candidates. Early Decision offers the greatest benefit, as some schools, such as Duke and Northwestern for example, admit nearly 50 per cent of their freshman class in ED.

When you apply Early Decision or Early Action, you can expect to hear back in December if you are deferred, denied, or accepted. If you are accepted, then you have the entire second semester of senior year to relax and focus on grades, extracurricular activities, and enjoying your final year of high school. For Early Action, you can spend time comparing schools and negotiating for your best financial aid offer.

Reasons to apply Early Decision are:

(1) You are 100% sure you want to attend the college in question. 

(2) You have well-researched the school and other options available. You are familiar with the college’s academics, student, and campus life.

(3) You know and have spoken with your regional admissions officer.

(4) Financial aid and college costs are not a concern to your family.

Reasons to apply Early Action are:

(1) The college is one of several colleges that you like and could see yourself happy there.

(2) College cost is of concern to your family. You are hoping for a good financial aid package. Affordability will be a factor in your decision.

(3) The school is a “reach” for you. You want to do all that you can to increase your chances.

Reasons NOT to apply Early Action or Early Decision are:

(1) Everyone in your school is applying, so you want to beat the rush.

(2) have a long list of colleges and want to finish everything before Thanksgiving.

(3) You are offered a fee waiver.

Not sure if you should apply Early Decision? Take the quiz below to help you decide.


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Bethany Goldszer is top college admissions and financial aid expert. She's been featured in HuffPost, USA Today, Newsday, Queens Gazette, and Official Black Wall Street & voted Best of Long Island. Faced with the overwhelming stress of applying, getting admitted to and financing her University of Chicago education, she started Stand Out College Prep LLC in 2012 so that no student or parent would have to go through this process alone. Over the last 15 years, Bethany has worked with over 1,500 students, helping them and their parents get into their top choice colleges and secure more than $20M in financial aid and scholarships. And each year, she continues to help more students stand out in the college admissions process and their parents navigate financial aid and scholarships.