There are three ways you may submit your college application: under Regular Decision, Early Action, or Early Decision. There's also Restrictive Early Action, but colleges that offer this option have varying rules and definitions, so we won't get into that here - it's just too college-specific. Additionally, there's also Early Decision II which is like a "do-over" when Plan A college doesn't work in your favor. And, we can't forget Rolling admission, but that only means once you submit your application (whenever), you'll get an answer about 2-3 weeks later. A Rolling Admission college accepts applications until there is no more room in the incoming class. Let's concentrate on the first three mentioned. Not all colleges offer all three types. It's most likely that highly selective colleges only offer Early Decision I and II and Regular Decision. Assuming you know the difference between Early Decision and Early Action, but just in case, here's a quick explanation.
If a college offers an application option of Early Action, that's the best of all worlds. Typically, the deadline for Early Action is on November 1, but most Southern schools like to bump that up to October 15. Then there are schools that like an Early Action deadline of November 15 or even as late as December 1. The latest I've ever seen for Early Action deadline was December 15, but that's pretty late. Why? Because if you are prepared to have your application and essays and test scores sent and teacher recommendations ready to meet the Early Action deadlines, then you are rewarded with a decision from the school earlier than your cohorts who applied under Regular Decision. You'll know whether you are in or not by January 15 at the very latest, but often earlier than that. Under Regular Decision, it could take as long as late-March or early-April to receive an admission decision, then you only have weeks until May 1 to make your final choice. Another advantage to an Early Action application is that you are NOT obligated to attend the school that accepted you under the Early Action application. You hold all the cards! You don't have to tell the college your decision until May 1. So, you found out you got in during January, and you have until May 1 to decide. How great is that?
About a decade ago, Early Action was a great option. Not only did you get a decision earlier, you also were not obligated to attend. Additionally, you are allowed to apply to as many Early Action schools as you'd like (unless there is a Restrictive Early Action on your list). But, the best part was that it used to give you an increased acceptance rate of at least 10-20%! That's significant, but with increased applications flying through the admissions gate, this is no longer the case. In fact, applying Early Action today will result in one of two ways if you are a strong candidate for the school: either an Accept (YAY!) or Deferred (BOO!). A deferral means you have not been denied, you've just been moved to the Regular Decision applicant pool. When admissions gets the applications from the Regular Decision candidates, then you'll be placed alongside them and re-evaluated against those applications. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does extend the time when you'll get your decision. Be patient. Students still get in, even after being deferred.
That brings us to today's topic of the Early Decision application. Just like Early Action, you must be ready earlier than the Regular Decision deadline. Again, November 1 is the most typical deadline, but check with your specific college, assuming they offer the Early Decision option. You'll also find out earlier whether or not you've been accepted, so another plus! Unlike Early Action, you are only allowed to apply to ONE school under the Early Action policy, and here's why. The biggest difference from Early Action is that if you apply Early Decision, you are contractually OBLIGATED to go to that school if you are accepted! I cannot stress to you enough how serious this decision is for you. It's probably the first "adult" decision you'll be making for yourself - do not take it lightly. Want to know how serious an Early Decision application is? Consider that when you apply Early Decision, you have to sign a separate contract in the application. Your parents have to sign a contract with the school indicating that they are fully aware of your decision to apply in this manner. And, your guidance counselor has to sign a contract indicating that you've discussed this decision with them, as well! See? Lots of contracts are being signed by lots of people!
The biggest advantage of applying Early Decision is that it actually can increase your acceptance rate by 10-20%. Some colleges say it doesn't, but that's total B.S. because statistics don't lie. Don't you have a better chance of acceptance if you're in a smaller pool of applicants? I rest my case. Now, don't get me wrong - you still have to be a strong applicant, but with today's uber competitiveness where top-rated students are getting rejected, an Early Decision application could be your ticket in.
A Quick Note About Early Decision
If you have applied Early Decision I back in November and received a rejection/deny letter, then your contract with the school is null and void. This allows you to apply Early Decision II to your Plan B school and still have a decent shot at getting in over your Regular Decision competitors. You'll notice the deadline for Early Decision II and Regular Decision normally fall on the same date. College admissions reviews the Early Decision II applicants before they even open the Regular Decision files. Keep that in mind! If you don't understand why Early Decision is a college's dream, then you don't understand how college is a business. Read this post and get an awakening. Yield is King in the college world!
How Can I Be Sure Early Decision is Right for Me?
With my own clients who are thinking about going Early Decision, I have them sign another contract, College Driven's. It's a checklist I impose on the student to ensure that this is the right direction and there won't be any regret in the end. The contract I have students and parents read reflects the following statements:
You understand the following:
1. You are 100% certain you want to attend the school if accepted.
2. You understand that applying ED does not guarantee admission.
3. You are contractually obligated to attend the school if accepted.
4. Due to the prematurity of admission, you MAY be giving up certain benefits of total financial aid packages.
5. You have made this decision under no obligation, coercion, or duress from anyone and in any matter. The decision is yours.
6. You MUST withdraw ALL other submitted applications if accepted under ED, which means possibly never knowing the admission outcomes to the other schools to which you have applied.
7. If you do decide to break the ED contract, any schools that are aware of your situation and decision MAY blacklist you. And they will be aware!
8. You have read the school’s ED agreement in full.
9. You have discussed your decision with your parents.
10. You may only apply to ONE school under the ED application.
11. You have not applied to ANY Early Action Restrictive schools where you are in violation.
12. You MUST send a non-refundable deposit well in advance of May 1.
13. You have visited the school.
14. You have researched the school.
15. You do not require the fall semester of senior year to aid in an increased GPA.
16. Your sole purpose of applying ED is not to increase your chances of admission.
17. You have communicated your decision with your guidance counselor.
18. You feel at ease, comfortable, and at peace with your decision.
I have both the student and the parent read and sign the contract. If you can't answer YES to ALL of the points, you need to reconsider your plan for an Early Decision application.
As the deadline looms for Early Decision I, I pray you have clarity and discernment in your final decision. Don't do it because it might increase your chances of getting in. Do it because you couldn't imagine any other school you would rather be attending. Best of luck!