What is Early Admissions? Does it Give Me an Advantage?

As the college admissions cycle is just about to fire up, we wanted to explain what exactly early admissions is and what it offers when compared to regular admissions.

What is Early Admissions?

Apply early, get a decision early!
Apply early, get a decision early!

Many schools, mostly private, offer an Early Admissions option where you can submit your application early and receive a notice of admissions early. This applies to private schools in particular because many public schools already begin releasing admissions decisions in late fall, while most private schools, especially Ivy League schools, release admissions decisions in the spring. By applying Early Admissions, you’ll usually submit your application by the beginning of November (check with your specific’s school’s deadlines), and you’ll usually receive a notification by early December, months before regular decision. This way you can be confident in where you’re attending and not have to stress all the way until April of the next year.

What is the difference between the Early Admissions options?

When applying early, there are generally three types of Early Admissions:

  1. Early Decision: You are only allowed to apply early to one school, and if accepted there, you agree to attend. This is essentially a binding decision, since if you are accepted, you must withdraw all other applications you sent out.
  2. Early Action: There is no limit to the number of regular Early Action schools you can apply to. You will get an early notification of your admissions decision, but you are not bound to attend this school; you can still apply to other schools under regular decision.
  3. Single Choice Early Action: You are only allowed to apply to one SCEA school, but if accepted there, you are not obligated to attend. The catch is again, for a school whose Early Action is Single Choice, that you can apply only to that school as an Early Action applicant. For example, Harvard is Single Choice Early Action, and MIT is regular Early Action. You cannot apply to both Harvard and MIT for Early Action since Harvard is SCEA, though you could apply to both MIT and another regular Early Action School.

Early Decision and Single Choice Early Action are very similar, with the primary difference between these two types of applications being that Early Decision is binding – you must attend the university you apply to – and Single Choice Early Action is not binding – you can decline to attend if accepted. To be clear, because of the nature of these applications, you cannot apply as both an Early Decision and a Single Choice Early Action applicant to different universities.

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Should I apply Early Action/Decision?

This is completely up to you as a student, but in general if you are a competitive applicant and know where you want to attend, apply early action. Of course, if you apply Early Decision, be 100% sure that you want to attend that school if accepted because you won’t have any other choice. The benefit of applying EA/ED/SCEA is that you’ll know months in advance if you are accepted to a college, reducing your anxiety by quite a bit. If you feel like you could further improve your competitiveness by delaying your application (for example, by having another full semester of good grades or by retaking the SAT/ACT/Subject Tests) then you wait to apply until you are more comfortable with your application.

Does Early Action/Decision give me an advantage to get in?

Don't worry! Early Admissions/Decision doesn't give you an advantage in and of itself!
Don’t worry! Early Admissions/Decision doesn’t give you an advantage in and of itself!

In general, no. You may receive some slight consideration for applying early, especially for ED schools, but if you are a weak student applying for reach schools, you won’t magically improve your chances solely due to EA/ED. Statistically, most schools have a higher Early Action/Early Decision admit rate than regular decision, but that doesn’t mean you have a better shot simply because of of EA/ED. Typically, students who apply EA/ED already have excellent credentials, so this group is somewhat self-selecting. A higher proportion of students with great grades and SAT scores and recommendations usually apply for EA/ED, since they know how good of a chance they have, and as a result, a higher proportion of them are admitted.

The good news about this is that there really isn’t a tangible probability bump simply from applying EA/ED. Apply if you want to, if you know where you want to attend, but don’t apply just because you’re afraid of falling behind or having lower chances! Another important item of note is that being declined for Early Action does not necessarily mean that you have no chance of being admitted to the school you are applying to. Unless you are outright Rejected by the school, most schools will automatically defer EA to the general admissions process, so there is a chance that you might be accepted at a later date.

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