If you want to keep your options open and still get admitted early, consider applying for an early action decision. Learn how your admission truly comes with no strings attached.
Like early decision admissions, early action admissions let you get a jump on the college application rush and reduce your waiting time for a decision. But unlike early decision, early action requires no commitment to attend. And many more colleges offer early action than offer early decision.
Early Action Lets You Leave Your Options Open
One big difference between early action and early decision is the level of commitment. If you apply to a college via early decision and are accepted, you are committed to attending that college. With early action, you make no commitment to attend the college. You simply have to decide by the regular decision deadline if the college is right for you.
Applying Early Action to More than One College
Almost all early action schools allow applicants to apply for early or regular admission to other schools. At a few highly selective schools, including Stanford and Yale, students who apply early action are restricted from applying early decision or early action elsewhere. These programs are called "restrictive" early action or "single choice" early action. Students don't have to commit to attending these schools if they are admitted, and they are free to apply via regular admission anywhere.
What It Takes to Apply Early Action
If you decide to apply for an early action decision, your deadline will probably fall in November or December. Many students applying for an early action decision start working on their applications during the summer before their senior year. You may need to complete all your standardized tests no later than October of your senior year, depending on the early action deadline. Except for the deadline, however, early action applications are identical to regular applications.
How to Evaluate Early Admission Colleges
If you are considering applying early, talk it over with your counselor and be sure to check with the college about application policies and procedures. Many students apply early on the assumption that it will improve their admissions chances, but it is a good idea to confirm that this might be true. For those colleges that offer early action, CollegeData's College Profiles show the percentage of students admitted from the pool that applied for early action.
When Applying for an Early Action Decision Makes Sense
While applying early doesn't guarantee admission, it will probably relieve you of some anxiety. Your wait time will be considerably shorter than that of your classmates applying for a regular decision. And if you get accepted, you will have the reassurance that you have been admitted somewhere while you wait for your regular decisions from other colleges. Also, students who apply early to a college demonstrate a commitment much appreciated by college admissions officers.
When It Might Not
If you don't meet a college's admissions standards, applying early won't help. You need to be qualified to get admitted—whenever you apply. You are better off improving your grades and applying for a regular decision. If getting substantial financial aid is critical, you will be better off waiting until you get all your admission decisions before deciding where to attend. That way, you can compare final aid offers before choosing a college. Lastly, applying early adds stress to the beginning of your senior year. The stress may impact your enjoyment of your senior year and your ability to maintain excellent grades. Colleges that admit you will track your grades and may cancel your admission offer if they don't like what they see.
Suppose You Don't Get Accepted?
If a college does not accept you for an early action decision, you may still have a chance to get into that school. The college may automatically add you to the regular admission application pool. If it does not, you are free to reapply by the regular admission deadline. Check the admission policies of each college you're interested in. There is no overriding standard and policies at a college may change from year to year.
Other Ways to Get an Early Admission Decision
More and more colleges are providing options to shorten your wait time to get a decision. Many schools have "rolling" admissions, meaning you can apply and get your decision at anytime during your senior year. Some schools offer "second round" early action programs that let you apply by the regular deadline but get your answer sooner than normal.
Watch Out for "Fast Apps"
Some college applications are sent to you with some of your information already filled in. They may have fancy-sounding names, such as "Distinctive Candidate Application," that make it seem like you are likely to get in. The application fee or the essay requirement may be waived. They may promise to give you an immediate decision. These applications are perfectly legitimate. The real risk is applying to a college without much thought. You should apply only after carefully considering whether the college is a good fit for you.
Keep in mind that the college of your dreams may not have an early admissions option. If the waiting is tough, that's OK. Believe it or not, in a few years those extra months of waiting will not matter at all.