• Apply Yourself
  • The Ins and Outs of Applying Early

Should You Apply Early Admission?

Deciding whether to apply early is a big fork in the road to college. As tempting as it may seem, it is not a decision to be made lightly. Here are some questions to consider.

The Three Types of Early Admission

  • Early Decision is binding. If you are accepted—and you get enough aid—you must attend and withdraw all other applications. You are allowed to apply to only one college for an early decision.
  • Early Action is not binding. You are usually free to apply elsewhere and you are not obligated to attend if accepted.
  • Restrictive Early Action is also not binding. You will usually have until May 1 to make a decision. However, you will not be able to apply early (ED, EA or REA) to any other college.

Applying Early Is Perfect for Some—and a Bad Move for Others

If you are thinking of applying early—either early decision, early action, or restrictive early action—ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Am I happy with my grades and test scores? If not, you will be better off using the fall semester to improve them and applying during the regular admissions cycle.
  2. Do I know what I want in a college based on extensive campus visits and research? If not, you may end up at a college you won't like. Skip applying early and dedicate time to finding out what you really want in a college.
  3. Do I need substantial financial aid? If so, you are better off skipping an early decision application so you can compare and negotiate aid offers from multiple colleges.

More Food for Thought

Does applying early boost your chances? Applying early, especially for an early decision, shows the college you are interested. However, many highly qualified and recruited students apply early, so the odds are just about as competitive as for regular admissions.

Early rejections can lead to hastily completed regular applications. You might be tempted to delay work on regular admission applications until you've heard from your "early" colleges. But if you do, you'll scramble to meet admission deadlines, and risk submitting less-than-stellar applications.

Resist the urge to "just get it over with." No doubt about it, an early acceptance can relieve some of your application stress. But there's a big payoff to taking the time to put together a well-researched list of colleges and weathering the stress of applying to each one. Your reward is ending up at a college where you know you will thrive.

An early application might lead to a deferral. One outcome of applying early is being "deferred" to the regular application pool. The college is not saying "no," but it is looking for more reasons to say "yes." If this happens, your best strategy is to work hard to earn top grades throughout your senior year and show your interest to the admissions office.