Early Decision Vs. Early Action: A Guide For Early Applicants

Early action and early decision are the two different things where many get confused. It's correct that both are almost the same as the students use both ways to apply early. But even after being almost similar, the difference is a crucial part. 

You may make a mistake if you don't bother to see the difference. But as you came here, surely you want to know the difference between the early action and decision. Further in this blog, we'll explain the difference, importance, and much more.

Basics of application timeline 

Before starting to apply, you must understand the five main college application deadlines:

Early decision (ED)

The application procedures under this category allow you to apply in earlier rounds. Early Decision is a binding agreement between you and the university that you will have to attend the university if you will apply early and get accepted. Students in need of financial aid are not advised to apply to under the ED plan, as they can lose their opportunity to choose the best financial offer among all of their acceptances. But if such students are very keen on a particular college, they can calculate the net price for their course and decide accordingly. Due to its binding nature, students, parents, and the counselor have to agree on an agreement that confirms that they understand all the plan’s terms and conditions and have no objection in the future.

Single Choice Early Action or Restricted Early Action (SCEA, REA)

Under SCEA or REA, students have the opportunity to indicate that they are filing the option of Early Decision only with the particular college, but are not bound by an agreement. They can still apply to most public schools under this admission process.  

Early actions (EA)

Unlike early decisions, these are non-binding, meaning you’re not bound to attend the university if you get accepted. This plan comes in many variations depending upon the universities. Some of them will allow you to apply to multiple universities labeled as Single-choice Early Action, while others may restrict you to only one application called Restricted Early Action. Some universities are having different levels of applications under the EDI and EDII plans. You can apply to one school as EDI, and in case you don’t get accepted, you can go for EDII. There are no restrictions on the number of Early Actions.  

Regular decision (RD)

This is the most regular one of the application submission processes. The benefit of regular decision is that you’re not bound to attend the school that accepts you.

Rolling admissions (Rolling)

Most popular in larger state universities, it allows you to submit applications with a large time window. Admissions are granted on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

As different universities have a variety of plans, it’s best to check their websites and find what their official deadlines are. It will provide you a verification of the options that you were counting on, and help you make an informed decision those suites you the best. 

What Is The Early Decision? 

Early decision is an application policy used by most colleges to admit students. As the name says, the early decision application policy is a process to apply early. Here you will send out your application earlier before the regular decision applications. 

Some Universities have an early decision application deadline of November 1st. In mid-December, Applicants will know their fate. It's earlier than the regular decision, where your result gets notified in March or April. 

Note that you will either get accepted, rejected, or deferred to the regular decision. If you got rejected, there is almost no chance that they will further take you to college. If you got deferred, they didn't accept you in the early decision, but you can apply in a regular decision. It means you still have a chance to enter college. If you get accepted to the college, you have made a binding agreement. The binding agreement bounds you to join the college. If you get accepted to one college, you must attend that college. Plus, You need to withdraw the application to other colleges. And not done so will break the agreement.

If you break the binding agreement, you will not undergo any legal action. But, the college that offered you a place will send out notifications to schools. They may notify the school that you broke the early decision agreement you had with them. It will make your chances slimmer. Even worse, the college may penalize future students of your school. The most significant disadvantage of early decision is the financial aid. If you get accepted through early decision, you may not be able to compare financial aid awards. It's Because the financial aid may not be ready at the time of early decision.

It means if you get accepted to the college through ED, it's not only the admission you are accepting. But you are also accepting the financial aid package. But financial aid can help you in one way if you want to turn down early decision admission. Inadequate financial aid can come up as a good reason to back out. It's because the college considers this to be an understandable reason for a student to back out. That aside, there are a few schools that have both Early Decision I and Early Decision II. For Early Decision I, you will have to send out your application before the end of November. For Early Decision II, you will have to submit your application by January. Applicants who apply for Early Decision II will get a response in February. 

So which are some of the schools that have an Early Decision policy? Examples include Cornell, Emory, Vanderbilt, Brown University, Northwestern, Amherst, Duke University, Syracuse, etc. 

Early Decision Applicants Should Know

  • As an early decision applicant, make sure to apply early before the end of November. 
  • You will get your application decision early enough by December. 
  • You must join the college you applied to if accepted. 
  • You must only apply to one college under an early decision policy. 
  • You may apply to other colleges under regular decision policy.
  • You must withdraw any applications you submitted to other schools if accepted by ED. 
  • You must send a non-refundable advance by May 1rst. 

What Is Early Action? 

Early action is where students apply early and receive the decision early than regular decision.

Students who go for an early action want to get the decision earlier to examine themselves. Early action helps students know where they stand in the college's admission process. They want the decision earlier to compare themself in the regular admission process.

About this, we can see the opinion of Walter Caffey. He is vice president for enrollment and dean of admission and student aid at Wheaton College.  Caffey says, "For me, early action means a student is in a position where they've done some homework." "They've made some investigation into schools that they believe might be a good fit for them."

According to NACAC, some colleges have restrictive early action decision policies. Here students will have a limit from applying to other colleges. In other words, a restrictive EA policy will restrict you from using the EA only once. It's almost the same as the early decision policy. 

The only difference is that you will only apply once in restrictive early action policy. The dean of student admissions at Mount Holyoke College, Leykia Nulan, has an opinion. As per him, they want you to use this policy once. It means that you won't have any chances of applying to another college once you. 

Over 450 colleges offer you one of these plans or both of them. Additionally, some schools only have restrictive early action. Here you are only required to make one shot. Due to this, most people have seen ED plans as unfair to those students with a poor financial background. It's because the poor students will not have an opportunity to compare financial aid.

Early Action Applicants Should Know.

  • You must submit your application early enough. 
  • You will receive your application decision early enough in January or February. 
  • You can apply to other schools under the regular decision policy. 
  • You must communicate your decision to the school whether you are joining or not before May 1rst. 

Key Differences Between Early Decision And Early Action

The most crucial difference between these two is the binding and non-binding factor. The ED is binding; students who apply for it are committing to attend college if accepted. In contrast, In EA, students have the choice to attend or not. 

When applying to an early decision, you must apply to only one college. However, there are no restrictions for early action like this. You can apply to as many colleges as you want. Another difference is a comparison of financial aid. In ED, as it is binding you to attend the college if accepted, you'll also accept the financial aid without seeing it. Thus, you will not be able to compare financial aid with other colleges. However, in the case of early action, you can compare the financial aid as it's not binding.

Despite all these differences, EA and ED have the same deadlines and dates.

Early Decision Vs. Early Action

Who Should Or Should Not Apply For Early Decision Or Early Action?

Should you apply early or not is one question you may get. It is a very common question almost every student gets. There are some points which you need to consider before deciding to apply early, let's see.

The first thing is the research of the college you will give early application. You must do the college research extensively before applying early. The college research helps you to know if the college is better for you or not and also your admission chances. 

Even if many colleges' early acceptance rate is high, you still need a fair amount of research. Because in the early application, there may be better candidates who apply to college. Especially if you are applying for an early decision, it becomes even more critical as it is binding. For example, you applied to a college through ED without research and got accepted. Later, you found out a better college which suits you more. In this case, it can be a very regretting decision for you to apply without research. Because now you are bound to attend the college which suits you less.

Make sure that the college you are applying to should be your first choice. If it's not your first choice, the scenario mentioned above may happen to you. In ED, you should apply for only one college; thus, it should be your first choice. Although, it's not the same case in early action.

While finding a college, make sure it matches your academic, social, geographical preference. Plus, take note of a good sat score or a good ACT score for college. You should exceed or meet the required SAT/ACT score for the college. It’s best if you keep in mind; you should have an academic record that is consistently better over time.

If you think you will be able to avoid paperwork and stress, you are mistaken. Your application may get more stressful as you need to do everything early than the regular time. Thus, you should not apply early if this is your primary reason. You should not apply for ED if you don't want to get committed to attend college. Also, don't get influenced by people around you, especially your friends. Don't apply early only because they are applying early. If your grades are low as per the college and it's tough for you to increase it to meet the college's needs, don't apply.

Apply Early if

Top 8 Frequently Asked Questions 

1. Can You Apply For ED And EA?

Some early decision colleges will let you apply to other ED colleges, but others don't. The same applies to early action colleges. While some will allow you to send your applications to other EA colleges, others won't. Sadly, some colleges will let you apply to either of them and not both. 

2. Is It Better To Apply Early Action Or Regular?

Students who apply to early decision colleges are more likely to secure admission. It is because it does offer a higher acceptance rate compared to early action colleges. The student applying for EA often knows what the admission committee is looking for in a student. 

3. What Happens If You Apply Early Decision And Don't Go?

ED is a binding agreement; thus, failing to attend may hurt your school's reputation. However, you may escape from it if your non-attendance is reasonable. Therefore, it's recommended only to apply if you are sure to go to the University. 

4. Does Early Application Increase Chances?

There are more chances for you to attend college if you apply through the early application. Most colleges consider up to 50 percent early applicants. And since only a few students apply early, you're in a better position of enrolling in the college. Also, the acceptance rate of early applications is higher compared to regular decision. However, the acceptance rate may be higher because better candidates apply early.

5. Can You Apply For ED I And ED II?

Yes, you can. However, if you don't get accepted in your first application, apply for the second time. The best of all is that you can apply for early decision II in a different school that allows ED II. While this is a one-time opportunity, it's worth giving it a thought. 

6. Does Brown Have ED?

Yes, But Early decisions are for the students who consider Brown their top-priority. However, once accepted from ED, you must withdraw from other college's applications. It shows your genuine interest in the college. 

7. What time do ED decisions come out?

Usually, the standard deadlines start from the 1st to the 15th of November. If you get accepted, the college notifies you of the admission date in December. Like I mentioned earlier, some colleges let you apply for Early Decision II. ED II is also binding, but with extended deadlines of up to January. 

8. Is Early Decision More Competitive?

Probably Not, if compared to regular decisions. Early decisions tend to offer higher acceptance rates than regular decisions. For Example, Harvard's early application acceptance rate is 13.9% for the class of 2024. It's a massive difference if compared to Harvard's regular decision acceptance rate of 4.6%. 

After you understand all things about the ED and EA, there's one more thing you should know. That one thing is the acceptance rate of colleges. Let's see some latest early application acceptance rate of few best colleges:

Early Application Rates for top colleges in the USA

For the class of 2024, Harvard University received 6,424 early student applications. Out of which, they admitted 13.9% of applicants, which is 895 students. The number of Early applications decreased by 534. But the acceptance rate increased by 1.10%. For the class of 2023, Harvard University received a total of 6,958 EA applications. In this, they only admitted 935 students, which tallies to 13.44%. 

Meanwhile, MIT received a whopping 9,291 ED student applications for the class of 2024. It was a decrease from last year's number of applications, which was 9,600 applications. MIT accepted only 687 students from the applications received, which is a 7.4% admission rate. 

Princeton University received 5,335 EA student applications. In this, 743 students got accepted for the class of 2023. Here, the acceptance rate is 13.93%. However, It decreased compared to the class of 2022 acceptance rate, which was 14.79%. Here the University managed to secure places for up to 799 students out of the 5,402 applications.

At Yale University, the number of applications increased from 5,777 to 7,939 applications. In 7939 applicants, Yale managed to admit 837 candidates for their 2025 class. It was an increase from their 2024 class of admission of 796 students. The number may have increased, but the acceptance rate decreased, from 13.8% to 10.54%. 

Other Universities' Early Acceptance Rates 

· Columbia University (Class of 2025) - 10.10% (6,435 applied, 650 admitted for EA). 

· University of Pennsylvania (Class of 2025) - 15% ( 7,962 applied, 1,194 admitted for EA). 

· Dartmouth College (Class of 2025) - 21.25% ( 2,664 applied, 566 admitted for EA). 

· Brown University (Class of 2025) - 15.97% ( 5,540 applied, 885 admitted for EA).

Cornell University (Class of 2024) - 22.6% ( 6,615 applied, 1,576 admitted for EA). 

In Summary 

Some advantages come with both EA and ED admission policies. For example, you will know early enough where they will be joining. It may increase your chances of admission. However, some limitations come with applying early. You will have the pressure to decide where you will join. You may get fewer financial aid opportunities. If you got rejected in ED, there's no chance to get accepted in a regular decision. 

Now, the question of whether you should go with the ED or EA depends on several things. Such as your goals and background and the interest you have in specific schools. Thus, if you're interested in applying early, don't do it blindly; prepare for it.