At this moment in the college application process, it is not uncommon for seniors to announce proudly that they have decided to apply Early Decision or Early Action. While for some this choice reflects the fruits of thorough, thoughtful and careful research and can be a very sound decision, the early application isn't always the best application. Many colleges offer the chance to apply Early Decision, a binding commitment that promises to the school that, if accepted, the applicant will enroll. As such, students cannot, ethically, apply to any more than one school ED and guidance offices will not send out student records for more than one ED application.
Early Action is similar to Early Decision but is a non-binding agreement and, thus, a student can apply to as many schools EA as he or she wishes. Many schools offer Early Action I, with deadlines typically around mid-November, as well as Early Action II, with deadlines in mid-December and sometimes later.
Typically, a student for whom either Early Decision or Early Action can be the right choice has been very involved and invested in the college search and has thoroughly considered all eligible schools.
A successful ED or EA applicant should have a strong transcript through the junior year as the admissions decision will be made before colleges have a chance to see any upward trend in the senior year. Further, all standardized testing should be completed by the October administration, teacher recommendations gathered, personal statements polished, and interviews completed, or at least scheduled, at all schools requiring or recommending them.
Early Decision can often work to the student's advantage because the commitment to attend is a way that schools can improve their yield, one of the measures by which colleges are ranked. Additionally, acceptance rates are typically higher (but not always) from ED and EA pools than the Regular Decision pool of applicants.
Finally, applying early provides students with the opportunity to learn of a college decision within six weeks, which can relieve a lot of stress - for students and parents alike.
However, there are some downsides to applying early that need to be given their due weight. First and foremost it takes an appreciable amount of time, organization and forethought to pull together an application by mid-November. As there is only one chance to make this first impression, students must be sure that the application that they submit early is the best application they can submit.
Further, applying early doesn't give a chance for a student who is just gaining their full academic momentum to have their winter grades submitted for review. And, because it does take quite a bit of motivation, effort and a certain maturity to be ready to apply ED or EA, this pool of applicants can actually be stronger than the Regular Decision pool because these same qualities make for strong students.
While most often those not accepted in the early rounds are placed into the Regular Decision pool, the risk of applying early is multiplied if applications are rejected in this round, as is sometimes the case.
For seniors who are unwavering in their decision about their first choice school and who are positioned to present their strongest application in November, applying Early Decision or Early Action can be a prudent course of action. However, the pros and cons should be weighed carefully before deciding if applying early is better.